The story of Romeo & Juliet has survived the test of time for over 400 years. Shakespeare crafted a love story ridden with tragic romance that begs to be sung in a dramatic fashion. That is perhaps why Charles Gounod’s ‘Roméo et Juliette’ makes so much sense as an opera. The tale that we all know becomes even more powerful to us Musical Theatre Queens when it includes soaring classical voices, vibrantly robust instruments from the pit, stunning elaborate costumes, and stellar sets cleverly staged. Yes please!
Right before the curtain raised, someone sitting directly behind me said to their date, “You know, everybody dies at the end.” Spoiler alert! Thankfully, no one around us even flinched. Of course, they all die, but there’s more to the story. San Diego Opera’s production manages to give us the magical journey that we love to get lost in when attending a live performance of this size, while re-visiting a chronicle of family, honor, and true love.
This beautiful production comes in from Minnesota Opera Shop and is jointly owned by the Minnesota Opera and the Cincinnati Opera. The 3-hour performance, including one 20-minute intermission, really flies by thanks to the engaging and seamless direction from Matthew Ozawa. Orchestrating massive set changes and scene transitions is a challenging task, but the company succeeds effortlessly. The main set, a golden baroque art frame hanging over the action, births through its elements like color changing roses, giant drapes, and floating spades that fly in and out of the scenes remarkably, streamlining the action of the play. William Boles, the set designer, thoughtfully provides a perfect playground for the talented cast to glide through. It is also just so pretty to look at. Another production stand out are the gorgeous costumes by Sarah Bahr, they truly set the tone and feel of the show as shades of rouge and navy blue divide the rivaling families. The opera starts with both Romeo and Juliet in contemporary clothes, which helped the audience relate to our two leads, and in a way invited us in on a personal level before we were transported to 3 very chaotic days in Verona during the end of the 16th Century. Notable to mention that all 3 of these creatives are making their San Diego Opera debut. Extremely impressive.
Our star-crossed lovers are skillfully played by Samoan tenor Pene Pati (Roméo) and California native Soprano Nicole Cabell (Juliette). Pati is an absolute powerhouse vocalist who brings a vulnerability and charm to Romeo, that has us eating out of his palm. His pianissimos are particularly impressive because of his control and forward placement that cuts through, as does his never-ending high C at the end of his act 2 aria. Bravisimo! Cabell’s Juliette was warm and coquettish, giving her more layers and depth, which complimented her counterpart masterfully. Their voices together are like a warm cup of tea on a rainy day…a tragically romantic day, but still. Both Pati and Cabell have performed the roles more than five or six times each. It is a true joy to see BIPOC artists being featured as the two principals in an unconventional casting choice, and we absolutely love to see it.
The cast is rounded up by devilishly handsome Adrian Kramer as Tybalt, Hadleigh Adams as Mercutio, Colin Ramsay as Count Capulet, standout Bass, Simon Lim, playing Friar Laurent with gusto, Sarah Coit as Stéphano, Alexandra Rodrick as Gertrude, Anthony Whitson-Martini as Count Pâris, Ted Pickell as The Duke of Verona, Andrew Konopak as Grégorio, and Adam Caughey as Benvolio. All supported by a hefty choral ensemble and ballet company that are hired locally, bringing great opportunities to San Diego talent interested in bel canto and ballet.
Yves Abel brilliantly conducts an orchestra of 70+ musicians that are the true heartbeat of this epic operation.
This is an exciting and promising time for Live Entertainment. Slowly, but surely, Theatre in all of its glorious forms is coming back after a very arduous two years. General Director of the San Diego Opera, David Bennett, led a post-show talk back for any audience members interested in learning more about any aspects of the production. To my surprise, most members of the creative team, as well as principals, took the time to stay and share experiences with us. These casual sessions between artists and audience members are, in my opinion, the key to help connect the Opera and Theatre loving community, and bring them back inside jaw dropping houses, like the San Diego Civic Center.
As part of the pre-show, Bennett shared the company’s plans for next season which include the World premiere of El Último Sueño de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida and Diego), by Latin Grammy winning composer Gabriela Lena Frank, and Pulitzer winning playwright Nilo Cruz. This Dia de los Muertos themed new opera, explores the volatile and rocky relationship between acclaimed Mexican painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. This work will be presented in Spanish with performances on October 29, November 1,4, & 6, 2022. The rest of the still unannounced season will be a Puccini lover’s dream, but I can’t reveal much more just yet.
So, my night in Verona was full of love, deceit, fabulous gowns, glorious singing, sword fighting, ballerinas, and death. What more could a gal ask for? Well, maybe it would’ve been fun to watch Mercutio and Tybalt lip-sync for their lives.
‘Romeo et Juliette’ is presented by San Diego Opera with performances March 26 and 29, and April 1 and 3 at the San Diego Civic Theater. Tickets and info: sdopera.org
—Berto Fernandez is a Puerto Rican actor, singer, and artist currently performing in Theatre productions all over Southern California. He holds a BA in Communications, and is a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
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