Utah Opera opens season with a moving and delightful “Roméo et Juliette”

Sun Oct 14, 2018 at 1:27 pm
By Edward Reichel

Joshua Dennis and Anya Matanovič star in Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” at Utah Opera. Photo: Dana Sohm/Utah Opera

With just a four-show season, Utah Opera artistic director Christopher McBeth must make some difficult decisions as to which operas to stage in any given year.

But Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, which opened the company’s season Saturday night at the Capitol Theatre, is certainly a work that deserves to be seen more frequently. (It was last produced at Utah Opera in 2005).

Not only because the music is gorgeous, but Gounod’s reworking for the opera stage keeps fairly close to the Shakespeare play upon which it is based. Librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, who adapted Faust for Gounod eight years earlier, were faithful to Shakespeare. The only major deviation was adding a prologue in which the chorus outlines the story, thus allowing the opera to end fittingly with the deaths of Roméo and Juliette.

Utah Opera’s current production uses the same sets constructed for its 1998 staging. But with newly designed costumes and a well-chosen cast, this is a delightful revival for both the eyes and ears.

The tragic couple is portrayed by Anya Matanovič and Joshua Dennis. With their youthful good looks and obvious chemistry, the singers proved ideal, with acting and vocal talents that allowed them to make their characters three-dimensional and their love story credible.

Matanovič has appeared in several Utah Opera productions over the years, most recently in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Le nozze di Figaro. She has always been impressive in her portrayals, and as Juliette, she was no less remarkable. She possesses a rich, warm soprano that is well suited for the sweet moments in her duets with Roméo, yet she also has the power to carry her own in the ensemble numbers and in Juliette’s famous waltz aria, “Je veux vivre.”

Dennis, whose last appearance at Utah Opera was as Greenhorn in Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick, gives a dynamic performance as Roméo. The mellow timbre of his tenor lends itself well to the passion he expresses for Juliette, and the lovers’ four duets are highlights of this production. But for sheer intensity, the tomb scene proved heartbreaking for the tenderness the two lovers show one another in their final moments.

In smaller roles, bass Adam Lau as the gentle Frère Laurent and tenor Christopher Oglesby as the hot-headed Tybalt stand out for their fine characterizations, as does mezzo-soprano Megan Marino as the playful Stéphano.

The Utah Opera Chorus, under chorus master Michaella Calzaretta, delivered a solid performance, something that one has come to expect from them over the years. Conductor Robert Tweten, a veteran of Utah Opera, led members of the Utah Symphony in a well-crafted performance of the score.

Stage director Vera Lúcia Calábria, in her Utah Opera debut, kept the action flowing at a good pace, which is a blessing considering how the five acts are divided into two halves, of approximately an hour and 20 minutes each.

The single intermission comes after the first scene of the third act. This is unfortunate since it disrupts the action and throws the timeframe off between the death of Tybalt at the end of Act 3 and Roméo and Juliette’s impassioned love scene of Act 4. Yet that proved the only misstep in an otherwise memorable staging of Gounod’s classic opera.

Roméo et Juliette runs through October 21 at the Capitol Theatre. utahopera.org; 801-355-2787.

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