On the 400th year anniversary of William Shakespeare's death Lyric Opera of Chicago appropriately chose to commemorate the famed playwright’s life by putting on an outstanding production of Romeo and Juliet. Helping to make this such a special piece of operatic theatre, Joseph Calleja and Susanna Phillips as the tragically famous lovesick couple do a magnificent job vocally and emotionally throughout the show to bring the real spirit of youthful, love at first sight to life.
The show begins with the stage curtain up and the entire cast ominously moves towards the audience singing the overture which was very effective in setting the tone of the times the play is set in.
Soprano Susanna Phillips, perfectly complimenting tenor Calleja, is especially great in her role. Dressed all in pink with gold sparkles, she embodies the very essence of springtime love in her opening number. When, at one point, she begs her nanny to stop talking about her impending marriage to an older man that Juliet does not love you really want her to get her wish, as her fresh hopeful desire to just dance and enjoy life is very infectious.
Joshua Hopkins as Romeo’s best pal Mercutio and Jason Slayden as Juliet’s short-fused cousin Tybalt also take to their roles with vigor and precision, really capturing the two sworn enemies’ disdain for each other while baritone Christian Van Horn is well cast as Friar Laurence, who means well though his efforts only end in tragedy.
I loved ALL the costumes by Jennifer Tipton! The rich, fabrics and colors, her hats and accessories for the women brought the whole stage to life. Also, the swashbuckling style of leather and velvet for the men was extremely entertaining and fitting to watch both their swordplay and Romeo’s lovemaking to Juliet.
Michael Yeargan's unit set is foreboding and appropriately towers over the cast as if to say there is no escape from this time period and its rules. However, I was looking forward to several set changes. Instead, the central platform served as a ballroom dance floor, Friar Laurence's cell, a town square and the crypt where the young couple meet their fate. I felt this modern touch of using a single large white sheet to signify Juliet's bedroom, then the church, and the burial shroud, etc., etc., was very one dimensional. The cast, so visually stunning, is so large even the hefty set seemed to barely contain them in various scenes. Still, overall, the production is a grand spectacle that is as colorful and enchanting as it is memorable.
Directed with fierce and daring force by Bartlett Sher, the Tony Award-winning Broadway director who's making his Lyric debut with this French piece by Charles Gounod, Romeo and Juliet succeeds marvelously on many levels. Of course this can only be accomplished with the comprehensive orchestral conducting of Emmanuel Villaume, who leads the often powerful and sometimes dreamy soundtrack to create a truly hauntingly tragic yet beautiful experience. The romanticism of the writing is so beautiful, so poetic, I found myself watching the screen high above the stage trying to memorize some of the pure poetry as the play went along. The lines of love and adoration spoken by Romeo and Juliet to each other were so exquisitely written, I have never seen an American adaptation of this or any love story which compares to this poetic version of the play.
No spoilers but there is a slight change to the ending scene that might throw off a few viewers but I still found it quite enjoyable.
This is a perfect opera to take your date to for an evening of romance that will thrill and delight. Your children will love this show because it renders the story of forbidden love and the destruction of such love because of unforgiving, ignorant family feuding and brings it to life in a compassionate and ever so romantic way.
Romeo and Juliet is being performed at Lyric Opera of Chicago through March 19th and is sure to please the casual and more adventurous theatre and opera lovers alike. For more information on this piece so wonderfully adapted for stage, visit www.LyricOpera.org.
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