Sep 13, 2008

Roméo et Juliette, Salzburg 2008

Opéra de Charles Gounod
Juliette - Nino Machaidze Roméo - Rolando Villazón Frère Laurent - Mikhail Petrenko Mercutio - Russell Braun Stefano - Cora Burggraaf Le Comte Capulet - Falk Struckmann Tybalt - Juan Francisco Gatell Gertrude - Susanne Resmark Le Duc de Vérone - Christian van Horn Le Comte Paris - Mathias Hausmann Grégorio - Jean-Luc Ballestra Benvolio - Robert Murray Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Conductor Stage director - Bartlett Sher, Sets - Michael Yeargan Costumes - Catherine Zuber Lightning - Jennifer Tipton 3SAT broadcast, August 2nd 2008 Numerous pictures of the production taken during the final dress rehearsal on July 28 here. First of all, I don't think musically Roméo et Juliette is nearly as good as Faust or even Polyeucte (which would deserve to be performed regularly if you ask me). I am truly amazed for instance, that nobody except me finds the introduction of the first big aria of Juliette, "Je veux vivre dans ce rêve" to be a total plagiarism of the beginning of the "Ah je ris de me voir si belle" aria in Faust.

That been said, and to focus on the actual broadcast, I have to say this was a rather frustrating performance. Both the staging, the costumes, sets and lightning were equally boring; as for the cast, I was not impressed by anybody - Nino Machaidze has a huge problem with her French diction, and the rest of the cast was average, as was the chorus, too inarticulate (special mention though to Mikhail Petrenko as Frère Laurent and his beautiful timbre - that, oddly enough, I didn't seem to be sensitive to in the recent Don Carlo in Paris).
Nino Machaidze & Mikhail Petrenko
I was extremely disappointed, on the other hand, by Rolando Villazon. Both his stage presence and his singing portrayed Roméo as a predator with bad intentions and that was a disaster for me. Some could argue this perspective is imaginative and brings an new light on the legend of Romeo and Juliette. To me, it's just like portraying Méphistophélès as a nice guy abused by Faust - and I have too much respect for both Shakespeare and Goethe to applause to such an alteration of the essence of their stories. Beyond that, the real problem was his singing; he had difficulties with the high notes and his breathing and failed to produce any nuance and sensitivity. The scenes requiring finesse and commitment were the worse, especially the final scene that was very well-conducted but failed due to his poor performance. The only highlight of the evening - a relative highlight I may immediately add - was the conduction of young Franco-Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. There were true great moments in his vision of the score, but some arias were totally screwed up as well. To be precise, the beginning of the opera was fresh and extremely vibrant - but by the middle of the first act, both the conductor's intentions and the execution by the orchestra faded; things sounded much better again by the middle of Act 2, especially the last aria of the act, "Va! Repose en paix!" which was played with a rare finesse and a very organic fluidity to it. The 2nd scene of Act 3, with Stefano's Tourterelle aria was a failure; some of the most exquisite bars of this opera, the chorus sentences during the duel, "Capulets/Montaigus, race immonde" were very well thought of, but the brass section was at a total lost during that time; the last two acts were globally well-conducted and the final scene was brilliant (except for the singing, as mentioned earlier). YouTube extracts: - Mikhail Petrenko in "Dieu qui fit l'homme à son image" - final scene

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