Arts & Events

Opera Review: Gounod's Romeo et Juliette at Livermore Valley Opera

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday September 28, 2011 - 10:08:00 AM

Charles Gounod--best-known for his Faust--had a different sense of adapting Shakespeare to opera than Verdi. It's closer to Delacroix's renderings of Hamlet. In Romeo et Juliette, now at Livermore Valley Opera, the sprawling action and passion is concentrated into a few scenes of melodic, lyrical grace.  

The LVO production, first of their 20th season, has a genuine sense of accomplishment about it, with a good cast--soprano Christie Hageman proving a particularly fine Juliette, tenor Christian Reinert a dashing Romeo--and among an excellent supporting troupe, Jennifer Panara excels in the pants role of Stephano, Romeo's add-on pageboy--with splendid orchestration under the baton of artistic director Alex Katzman, and the right combination of set (Jean Francois Revon), lighting (Kevin Bautch) and Hannah Phillips-Ryan's costumes. Bill Murray's stage direction keeps the dramatic line well-delineated, completely in the spirit of the piece, not Shakespeare but a kind of operatic rhapsody to his play and its theme. 

This level of collaboration makes the Balcony Scene an event, and lends depth to Act III, when out of a more than half-comic brawl, touched off by Stephano's insults, Juliette's cousin Tybalt (Ernest Alvarez) kills Romeo's kinsman Mercutio (Roberto Perlas Gomez), only to be slain by Romeo. Here the ensemble and chorus prove decisive, musically and dramatically. 

At the end of Act IV, Juliette's "Poison" aria, with Hageman singing gloriously, late in the proceedings, becomes the high point in a show where much is engrossing, affecting. 

Gounod, teacher to Bizet, praised by Berlioz and Ravel, is one of the quieter originals in opera history, represented in contemporary repertoire by only two of his many operas--and for those who whistle in the shower, the theme to a piano piece, "Funeral March for a Marionette," which became intro music for TV's Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Romeo et Juliette, in LVO's excellent production, gives compelling reason to explore more of this half-remembered master's treasures--after savoring this one in particular. 

Livermore Valley Opera at the Bankhead Theater, 2400 First Street, Livermore. Saturday, October 1, 8 p. m.; Sunday, October 2, 2 p. m. (925) 373-6800;