HOT puts on a fun, clever 'Romeo'
By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to The Advertiser
By Ruth O. Bingham
Romeo and Juliet is a familiar tale to all except the very young. Fortunately, familiarity in opera is a good thing: it frees the audience from concentrating on the plot and allows them to savor each moment.
There was much worth savoring in Hawaii Opera Theatre's production of Gounod's five-act "Romeo and Juliet," which was presented in three sections, with intermissions on either side of Act III.
As in seasons past, director Karen Tiller presented a lively, richly conceived interpretation that added depth to every exchange: Juliet smelling the curtain Romeo had touched; Gregorio's frustration when Gertrude is called away; the Friar's reaction to Romeo and Juliet embracing; Juliet as a silhouette cross, martyred to her family's feud; a dying Romeo reaching for her hand, and failing.
Don't blink — you'll miss something fun.
The duel in Act III, choreographed by Tony Pisculli, was convincing and exciting. Opera singers do not typically come with fencing skills, but Pisculli managed to create a satisfying dramatic climax.
The sets, designed by Eric Fielding, and costumes, by Helen E. Rodgers, conjured a smoothly coherent world populated by Renaissance arches that echoed Gounod's beautifully arched musical structures.
Colors, in tones redolent of Renaissance paintings, delineated the feud: reds and golds for the Capulets and Juliet ("It is the East, and Juliet the sun!"); greens and blues for the Montagues and Romeo, who inhabits the night. That juxtaposition set up the delightfully comic repartee about larks and nightingales between Romeo and Juliet in the bedroom scene (Act IV) at dawn, when night and day were as entangled as they.
HOT's Romeo, sung by George Dyer, an appealing lyric tenor with a striking resemblance to Prince Charming, and Juliet, sung by Audrey Elizabeth Luna, a lithe powerhouse of a lyric soprano, did not have romantic chemistry, but they made a lovely couple who sang and acted well. Dyer's opening and closing of the balcony scene (Act II) were gorgeous.
Luna had a disconcerting tendency to enter on the sharp side, especially in her highest ranges, which had a wild quality that skirted the edges of brittle, but the rest of her ranges were terrific, and her Act IV aria was dynamite.
This opera has a large cast of secondary characters, many sung by local artists, and part of the fun is hearing and seeing what they do with their roles.
Of the visiting artists, Sandra Piques Eddy was outstanding in her trouser role as Stephano the page; her aria is not to be missed.
Adam Flowers (Tybalt) and Etienne Dupuis (Mercutio) were also engaging, Flowers for his skillful raging, Dupuis for his eloquent if not quite magical Queen Mab fantasy. And both John Marcus Bindel (Friar Laurence) and Dorothy Byrne (Gertrude) were excellent.
The HOT Chorus, directed by Beebe Freitas and Nola Nahulu, ranged from ragged, as while dancing in Act I, to outstanding, as in the opening tableau narrative and at the end of Act III. The chorus plays an important role in this opera and would have received more applause if they had taken their bows at the end with everyone else instead of surprising the audience at the end of Act III.
As difficult as it is to sing opera, it is equally difficult to not sing. Non-singers on stage must continue to react to a single moment stretched over five or even 10 minutes without breaking character, drawing attention away from the singer, or becoming stale. The skill lies in keeping the scene naturally alive when it is anything but.
Tiller and choreographer Teddy Kern found ways for that to happen, and many of the cast — particularly Dorothy Byrne (Gertrude) — inhabited their roles fully, living within the music.
Perhaps especially in French music, the cadence of the language is so tightly woven into the music that the orchestra is less accompaniment than musical context. And in "Romeo and Juliet," Gounod composed some of the most luxurious, expressive music in the repertoire — Romeo and Juliet's reunification in Act V is positively orgiastic.
On Friday, as with most live performances, there were the occasional sloppy passages as well as many beautiful ones — the balcony scene and the prelude to Act V, for example, were delicately tender and quite beautiful. Conductor Mark Flint maintained outstanding balance and managed even very large scenes smoothly. Throughout, however, instead of an enmeshed partnership, there was an underlying sense of orchestral-driven tempos that did not sit easily with the singers.
All in all, HOT's "Romeo and Juliet" was engaging, fun, clever — a charming reinterpretation of a classic.