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Gallic Elegance

Gounod's 'Roméo et Juliette',
enjoyed by MIKE WHEELER


Punks versus sharp suits -- it's a seedy world in which director John Fulljames has set Opera North's production of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette (Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 30 May 2008). Peter Savidge's Capulet sports the long grey pony tail and dark glasses of an ageing rock star. Gertrude, Juliet's nurse (Yvonne Howard), is what an earlier generation would have described as 'no better than she should be'. Amid the predominantly black set and costumes, dressing the two lovers in white might seem crudely emblematic, but Bernarda Bobro's Juliet and Leonardo Capalbo's Romeo convey just the right degree of youthful innocence and impetuosity to bring it off.

The set is dominated by a central platform, raised and lowered to provide a separate performing area. It first descends during the Prologue with the dead lovers splayed across it, while the chorus stands around, mourners at the funeral. Afterwards it serves as Juliet's bedroom and balcony, and Friar Lawrence's herb garden. Stars and moon in the shape of small orange spheres (echoing the large orange balls the party guests play with in Act 1) descend benevolently over the balcony scene. The top half of the box set rises and falls -- allowing more light onto the scene and cutting it off again -- following the lovers' fluctuating hopes.

Bernarda Bobro sparkled in her early scenes with her spot-on teenage demeanour and agile voice. Her Act 1 aria, 'Je veux vivre ...', was the epitome of a young girl who just wants to have fun rather than commitment. Her feel for the tragic events later was all the more moving. Leonardo Capalbo's tenor had a dark baritonal quality that gave Romeo a hint of marginally greater experience. Just occasionally he was a whisker under the note, and his French pronunciation was somewhat off-centre. In the big Act 4 and Act 5 duets he and Bobro gave their characters a passionate maturity well beyond their Act 1 selves. How quickly these two have been forced to grow up!

Henry Waddington's grave Friar Lawrence and Yvonne Howard's flighty Gertrude were both convincingly sympathetic in their different ways. Peter Wedd's menacingly sung Tybalt was impulsively hot headed. Stephan Loges' Mercutio had a nice light touch for his Queen Mab aria. Frances Bourne's sparky Stéphano, sporting a bleached mohican hairstyle, nipping around the stage on 'heelies', and spraying blood-red graffiti on the back wall and the floor, provided a welcome moment of light relief.

The chorus, singing as thrillingly as in Macbeth two nights before, was superbly marshalled around the stage. The women lining up along the front and fixing their make-up at the Act 1 party was a nice touch that neatly pointed up the Capulets' self-obssesed nature. The fight in which Mercutio and Tybalt are killed in Act 3 was thoroughly convincing, as were the bystanders' reactions.

Gounod's Gallic elegance is plunged into a post-West Side Story setting. It shouldn't work, but it does -- triumphantly.

Copyright © 3 June 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK



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