Think you know the tale of Romeo and Juliette like the back of your hand? Well, not so fast. While everybody from William Shakespeare to Leonard Bernstein (”West Side Story”) has told this story of star-crossed lovers, director Bartlett Sher extols the rendering found in Charles Gounod’s opera.
Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette” opened at the Metropolitan Opera on New Year’s Eve, and the French composer’s version of the story that Shakespeare had earlier adapted from a still older Italian tale is next up in the Met’s Live in HD series, being broadcast Saturday at the Douglass Theatre.
This production of the tragedy is the work the American director Bartlett Sher, but most of the press that I’ve seen focuses on the sizzling relationship between the German soprano Diana Damrau and the Italian tenor Vittorio Grigolo, the title characters. This pair will be familiar to regular attendees at the Met broadcasts for they appeared together in “Manon” in 2015.
The Met’s publicity materials call this coupling “electrifying,” and the New York Times goes even beyond that, using phrases such as “erotic,” “scorching” and “post-coital.” Director Sher says that the opera avoids what he sees as the problems of the play. I’m not at all sure that the reviewer whose piece I subsequently read would agree completely, but it’s quite clear that this is an immensely successful production.
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The production was initially said to be presented by the Salzburg Festival, but the author is French and the action is set in Verona, Italy.
For those who are unfamiliar with the plot, Romeo and Juliette are hot-blooded teens from two warring families. After they meet at a ball and fall passionately in love, a helpful friar hopes to reconcile the two families by arranging a secret wedding and a one-night honeymoon. Alas, he inadvertently sets in motion a concatenation of events that vie with “Troilus and Cressida” for top honors in the tragic love-story genre. Bring tissues.
James Caldwell and Edward Eikner are scheduled to deliver the pre-show Opera Chat.