The Virginia Opera brought Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” to the George Mason University’s Center for the Arts this past weekend just in time for Valentine’s Day, and if the “eternal” in the Valentine promise of eternal love lasts for only one night in Gounod’s (and Shakespeare’s) drama, the production made sure that it was a steamy, intense night indeed.
This was a production that made its greatest impact as theater. Not a bad thing for opera. The singing was generally high quality with Marie-Eve Munger’s Juliet, Kevin Langan’s Friar Lawrence and Kyle Tomlin’s Tybalt of particular note, but it was the electricity and the energy of the acting, beautifully conceived sets and imaginative stage business that made for such a fine production. This was the work of long-time director Bernard Uzan — an actor himself with extensive experience at getting the best from the sort of young, emerging singers that the VO calls on for so much of its casting — and of conductor John Baril, whose pacing offered both dramatic excitement and vocal space. The orchestra may have managed just a tentative-sounding overture, but the players gathered their forces, found some of the sharp-edged attacks and the color that had been missing at the beginning and provided a vivid soundscape for the rest of the evening.
Munger handled her coloratura with apparent ease. Her voice, light and expressive in its middle range, occasionally took on a hard edge as she neared the top, but once there it floated. As Romeo, tenor Jonathan Boyd sang with the smooth, attractive lyricism of youth. It’s a lyricism that doesn’t yet include a lot of the subtle inflections that can convey volumes, but that should come with experience. Efrain Solis was a fine, energetic and head-strong Mercutio, and tenor Tomlin’s Tybalt proved to be as impressively commanding athletically when wielding a sword as he was vocally. Keith Brown and Ashraf Sewailam were dignified and properly overbearing as the two clan heads, and as Gertrude, Juliet’s nurse, mezzo-soprano Susan Nicely toed the line separating pathos and comedy with delicacy. The chorus sounded a little soggy.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.