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Romeo and Juliet

There is only one playwright whose work is also a mainstay of the opera and ballet canons, that being "Shake-speare." At least 10 of his plays have been adapted as operas, and two of his works—A Midsummer's Night' Dream and Romeo and Juliet—are staples in all three forms, though it is rare that we get to experience and compare these artistic variations with each other. Within the past nine days in Denver, however, we've been treated to two productions of Romeo and Juliet, the play (at the Stage) and Charles Gounod's opera (at the Ellie), only a minute's walk apart.

Giuseppe Varano as Romeo
Guiseppe Varano as Romeo
Photo: Matthew Staver
Given that the playwright freely borrowed from a variety of source texts, it's only fair that we give each adaptation its due, experiencing it on its own terms. In Opera Colorado's current production, the story is distilled to its essential elements, six scenes spread across three acts, the arc of Romeo and Juliet's shooting-star romance—a short-lived flame extinguished in a poisoned atmosphere.

The economically trimmed storyline provides space for a number of poignant arias, including a delicious repast from Mercutio (Daniel Belcher, baritone), blaming Romeo's foreboding thoughts on Queen Mab (a fairy who, among her many attributes, has an influence on dreams). Juliet (Ava Pine, soprano), too, references dreams—and the desire to live among her youthful visions—when she sings to her Nurse (Marcia Ragonetti), during the famous waltz. Pine fills the hall, her dulcet tones resounding from every angle.

Ava Pine as Juliet
Ava Pine as Juliet
Photo: Matthew Staver
After some sweet kisses, Romeo (Giuseppe Varano, tenor) sings a passionate serenede, while he wishes for Juliet to appear on her balcony. Their duet that follows encompasses choice phrases from some of the playwright's most famous lines, as R & J pledge their eternal love to each other. Their vows are taken during a sturdy and solemn blessing from Friar Laurence (Kevin Langan, bass).

Giuseppe Varano as Romeo and Ava Pine as Juliet
Guiseppe Varano as Romeo
and Ava Pine as Juliet
Photo: Matthew Staver
Romeo's page, Stefano (Brenda Patterson, a thrilling mezzo-soprano) comes looking for his master, singing an impudent tune, which wakes the Capulet household, eventually leading to the deadly swordfight in which Tybalt slays Mercutio and Romeo slays Tybalt. Another exquisite duet is sung on the marriage bed, as the lovers, wishing never to part, are torn between their hope that it is the nightengale which sings to the darkness, while it is actually the lark hearkening the dawn (before which Romeo must be gone, or face death for ignoring the Prince's order for his banishment). The final, heartbreaking duet occurs in the tomb, made possible by a novel change in Shakespeare's story by the librettists, Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, the upshot of which we'll leave for you to discover.

Robert Wood leads the Opera Colorado Orchestra through a lovely rendition of Gounod's well-tempered score. The 36-member Opera Colorado Chorus adds terrific punctuation and atmospherics.

Opera Colorado's Romeo and Juliet runs through February 17th. For tickets: 303-468-2030 or Ticketmaster.

Bob Bows

 

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