Virginia Opera's production of Charles Gounod's "Romeo and Juliet," staged Friday at George Mason University's Center for the Arts, was grand opera at its most ravishing. Based on the classic star-crossed-lovers tragedy, the composer's setting joins a French sense of elaborate theatrical spectacle to the captivating lyrical allure of the Italian romantic tradition -- all of this yielding occasionally to the mesmerizing spell of waltzes, a la Vienna.
Conductor and Artistic Director Peter Mark maintained uninterrupted momentum and excitement, winning instantaneous responses from singers, dancers and orchestra alike. The chorus was a dominant force in the action, delivering crowd scenes with magnitude and vigor. Chi Liming (Romeo) and Wei Huang (Juliet) proved ardent lovers trapped by fate and passion, their resplendent duets growing ever more intimate. They infused their wedding night with ominous darkness touched by levity in the symbolic lark and nightingale imagery of their dialogue. Liming's tenor was focused and powerful, if occasionally a bit strained; Huang's soprano had pliancy and gleaming resonance.
The effectiveness of the production also owed much to a dazzling supporting cast. The staging emphasized constant motion underscored by agile dancing (especially the writhing phantoms in Juliet's dream episode), a violent duel, and restless crowds with contrasting costumes outlining the feuding Montaigu (blue) and Capulet (red) families. The realistic sets made judicious use of Italianate balconies and facades cleverly rearranged for each scene.
-- Cecelia Porter