The Sarasota Opera mounted an attractive and dramatically satisfying production of Charles Gounod’s melodious opera “Roméo et Juliette”, inspired by Shakespeare’s romantic play.
Hanna Brammer’s Juliette
Michigan soprano Hanna Brammer, whom I had praised previously for her Micaela, charmed as Juliette [Review: Sarasota Opera “Carmen” with Lisa Chavez, Cody Austin, Hanna Brammer – March 16, 2018] .
Assaying a role that encompasses both the lyric coloratura and lyric soprano repertories, Brammer gave a lively performance of Juliette’s pleasant first act coloratura aria Je veux vivre.
In the decades after Gounod composed the opera, Juliette’s later aria Amour ranime courage was traditionally cut. The aria was considered too heavy for the light lyric coloratura sopranos who were chosen to sing the role. In the 21st century one expects to hear the aria sung. It is not only an exciting musical passage when sung well, it is a dramatic high point of the opera. It was Brammer’s performance of Amour ranime courage that transformed her character of Juliette into a decisive heroine. In that aria, Juliette decides to follow through on Frére Laurent’s strategy to consume a potion that induces a sleep that resembles death.
[Below: Juliette (Hanna Brammer) commits herself to a potion that induces sleep resembling death; edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]
Brammer’s performance of the demanding aria displayed both the musical and dramatic power of the aria. A highlight of the evening, Brammer’s aria was greeted by an audience ovation.
Andrew Surrena’s Roméo
California lyric tenor Andrew Surrena was a physically striking, elegantly costumed Roméo, exquisitely performing Roméo’s great “balcony scene” aria Ah, levetoi soleil. He was impressive in singing Roméo’s powerful suicide aria O ma femme, o ma bien-aimée as Roméo comes upon what he believes to be Juliette’s corpse.
[Below: Roméo (Andrew Surrena) stands in the garden below his lover’s balcony; edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]
As beautiful as the solo arias for each of the lovers are, it is the half dozen duets that Gounod (and his librettists, Jules Barbier and Michel Carre, famous for the creation of the text of Gounod’s most famous opera “Faust”) that make the score of “Roméo et Juliette” so unique.
[Below: Roméo (Andrew Surrena, right) pledges his love to Juliette (Hanna Brammer, left); edited image, basedon a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]
I have written about the eroticism of the “sweet melody” infused in Gounod’s arias and duets [see Sweet Melody: Gounod’s “Faust”, “Roméo and Juliet” and the Théâtre Lyrique]. Surrena and Brammer sang each of their duets with palpable passion.
Ricardo Lugo’s Frére Laurent
Puerto Rican bass Ricardo Lugo was a sonorous Frére Laurent, a cleric determined to use the bond between Roméo and Juliette, as a means of promoting peace between the feuding families
Lugo’s aria describing the potion which creates a sleep that resembles death is one of Gounod’s most arresting melodies, which Lugo performed beautifully.
[Below: Frére Laurent (Ricardo Lugo, center) presides over the marriage of Juliet (Hanna Brammer, left) and Roméo (Andrew Surrena, right); edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]
Matthew Hanscom as Mercutio and Samuel Schlievert as Tybalt
Minnesota baritone Matthew Hanscom, in the role Roméo’s best friend, Mercutio, authoritatively performed the erotic aria Man, la reine des mensonges, taunting Roméo about the mythical Queen Mab’s night-time entrance into men’s dreams.
Ohio tenor (and Sarasota Opera Studio Artist) Samuel Schlievert performed the role of Juliette’s cousin Tybalt with distinction.
[Below: the violent feud between two Verona families continues as Mercutio of the Montagues (Matthew Hanscom, right) enters into a fatal sword fight with Tybalt of the Capulets (Samuel Schlievert, left); edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]
As hotheads representing respectively the feuding Montague and Capulet families, Hanscomb’s Mercutio and Schlievert’s Tybalt engaged in convincing swordplay with fatal consequences.
Lisa Chavez’ Nurse Gertrude
California mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez, who in recent Sarasota Opera seasons has performed many mezzo-soprano roles, both principal and comprimario, gave a solid performance as Juliette’s nurse, Gertrude.
[Below: The Nurse, Gertrude (Lisa Chavez, right) comforts Juliette (Hanna Brammer, right); edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]
Adelmo Guidarelli as Capulet and Joseph Buetel as Paris
Connecticut baritone Adelmo Guidarelli, was the leader of the Capulet clan, dispatched Capulet’s several arias exuding the authority of a clan chieftain.
[The Count Capulet (Adelmo Guidarelli, left) accepts Paris (Joseph Buetel, right) as his future son-in-law; edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]
Indiana baritone Joseph Buetel sang the role of Paris, the Capulet family’s official choice to be Juliette’s husband.
Yvonne Trobe as Stephano and Other Cast Members
New York soprano (and Sarasota Opera Studio Artist) Yvonne Trobe sang the role of the page Stephano (the only character in Gounod’s opera who does not appear in Shakespeare’s play).
In Gounod’s version, the role has dramatic significance. Stephano not only has a poetic aria (nicely performed by Trobe), but because he is a member of the Montague clan found on Capulet property his presence there leads to the swordfights in which both Mercutio and Tybalt die.
[Below: Yvonne Trobe as the page Stephano; edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]
The other cast members who are Sarasota Opera Studio Artists are Indiana tenor Gansom Salmon as Benvolio, Connecticut baritone Michael Gracco as Gregorio and Australian bass Christopher Nazarian as the Duke of Verona.
Maestro Anthony Barrese and the Sarasota Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Illinois Maestro Anthony Barrese led the Sarasota Opera and Chorus in a beautifully contoured, lyrical performance of Gounod’s music. The Sarasota Opera Chorus, consisting of Sarasota Opera Studio Artists and Apprentices, sang splendidly.
Martha Collins’ Stage Direction and Peter Dean Beck’s Scenic Design
Canadian director Martha Collins created fast-paced action, utilizing Peter Dean Beck’s attractive sets evoking Elizabethan Theater and the colorful Renaissance costumes chosen by New York designer Howard Tsvi Kaplan.
[Below: Martha Collins’ staging of the Capulet’s Ball, using Peter Dean Beck’s sets; edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]
I enthusiastically recommended the Sarasota Opera’s cast, musical performance and production of “Romeo et Juliette”, both for the veteran opera goer and the newcomer to opera.
Regrettably, although I reviewed the sixth of nine scheduled performances, the last two scheduled p[erformances were cancelled as a result of the national state of emergency declaration created by the coronovirus pandemic.