Review: ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ opera by Charles Gounod, presented by SF Opera at the War Memorial Opera House (****)

by Charles Kruger

Pene Pati as Romeo in Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo Credit: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera
Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

Tenor Pene Pati has been compared by many critics to Luciano Pavarotti. Does he deserve it? Yes. Very definitely yes. And another point: Pati is a very large man. Can he be convincing as Romeo? Again, as Pati possesses an emotional range and passion as impressive as his physique, the answer is very definitely yes. There is nothing disappointing about his performance.

That said, what about the rest of the production? Well, to begin with. it has to be acknowledged that Gounod’s opera is not a great shining star in the firmament of operatic masterpieces. It has charm, but most of the music is adequate, not great, the choruses do not thrill, and the main characters are really not very interesting except for the accident of falling in love.

So why does this “operatic warhorse” remain popular, and constantly revived? Well, the most obvious answer is that it is based upon the second most popular play (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” takes first place) by the world’s most popular playwright, so famous he need not be named. For the rest, Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” might be described as a work whose parts are greater than their sum.

In this production those parts are magnificently sung: they include the four love duets given to Romeo and Juliet, and the wonderful aria of Stephano (a character unique to the opera, not appearing in Shakespeare’s original) that opens Act III: “Que fais-tu blanche tourterelle?” Making her SF Opera debut in this trouser role, Stephanie Lauricella knocks it out of Verona, and receives a well-deserved ovation.

As Juliet, the enormously popular Nadine Sierra lives up to her reputation: she sings with a lyric sweetness that uplifts the listener, and her acting is full of convincing adolescent emotion. Pene Pati’s Romeo is simply glorious. As an actor, he has a face that is indescribably expressive, conveying every nuance of emotion. As a singer, he soars effortlessly throughout his entire range of notes and dynamics, a voice so supple it is like a silken rope, strong yet smooth, sweet and lustrous. At the close of the scene where he kills Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (who has just killed Romeo’s cousin Mercutio), Pati delivers a show-stopping sustained high C that is stunning in its virtuosity, but also perfectly expressive of the dramatic moment.

Other highlights of this production include LucasMeachem’s dramatically and vocally impressive Mercutio, played with swashbuckling poetic intensity, and Hadleigh Adams as Juliet’s suitor, the obnoxiously aristocratic Paris. Adams is not called upon to sing much in this role, but his acting, expressed through eloquent body language, is notable.

Lastly, fight choreographer Dave Maier really gets to strut his stuff with the sword fighting sequences, which are entirely convincing.

“Romeo & Juliet” plays at the War Memorial Opera House through October 1. For further information, click here.


Rating: **** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)


“Romeo and Juliet” by Charles Gounod. Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. Based on the drama by William Shakespeare. Conductor: Yves Abel. Production: Jean-Louis Grinda. Associate Stage Director: Vanessa d’Ayral de Serignac. Set Designer: Eric Chevalier. Costume Designer: Carola Volles. Lighting Designer: Roberto Venturi. Choreographer: Lawrence Pech. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson. Fight Director: Dave Maier. 

Cast:

Tybalt: Daniel Montenegro. Paris: Hadleigh Adams. Capulet: Timothy Mix. Juliet: Nadine Sierra. Mercutio: Lucas Meachem. Romeo: Pene Pati. Gertrude: Eve Gigliotti. Gregorio: SeokJong Baek. Friar Lawrence: James Creswell. Stephano: Stephanie Lauricella. Benvolio: Christopher Oglesby. The Duke of Verona: Philip Skinner.

 

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