Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” is kind of a second-tier opera. It’s not produced often, especially in places like Tampa that only see a few locally produced operas a year, and it has no songs or melodies that have become familiar outside of the opera world.
But second-tier doesn’t mean second-rate. Gounod’s 150-year-old opera, which follows (until its ending) the story of Shakespeare’s “star-crossed lovers” is packed end-to-end with emotional and lovely music.
And of course, even people who aren’t familiar with the opera know the story in detail.
All of that makes “Romeo and Juliet” an excellent, if unconventional, choice to begin Opera Tampa’s 2017 season.
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The production premiered Friday evening at Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. There’s one more performance remaining, at 2 p.m. Sunday.
The familiarity of the story is both a benefit and a handicap. “Romeo and Juliet” is sung in French, but it’s easy to follow the characters and the plot even without the distraction of checking the English translation (which is, as always, projected above the stage.) But the complete lack of surprises necessarily saps some of the emotional power from the narrative.
The Opera Tampa production, directed by Bernard Uzan, is visually sumptuous with imposing sets provided by Opera Carolina, costumes provided by A.T. Jones and Sons that are stunningly beautiful though surprisingly uncolorful, and striking projections by Michael Baumgarten.
The Opera Tampa production, directed by Berandrd Uzan is visually sumptuous, with imposing sets provided by Opera Carolina, costumes provided by A.T. Jones and Sons that are stunningly beautiful though surprisingly uncolorful, and striking projections by Michael Baumgarten.
Soprano Sarah Joy Miller of Woodstock, N.Y., making her Opera Tampa debut as Juliet, has a pure and powerful voice that makes her solo centerpiece, the waltz “Je veux vivre,” especially effective.
Tenor Richard Troxell, who was Rodolfo in “La Boheme” and Pinkerton in “Madama Butterfly” for Opera Tampa,” occasionally lacks the power to be heard over the orchestra. But in the opera’s signature duets between the two leads, his voice blends beautifully with Miller’s.
The most impressive smaller performance comes from mezzo-soprano Kimberly Sogioka, who’s engaging in the male role of Stephano. Bass-baritone Won Cho (Capulet), tenor Daniel Curran (Tybalt), baritone Gabriel Preisser (Mercutio) and bass-baritone David Cushing (Friar Lawrence and the Duke) all provide exceptional support.
Coming up later in the season for Opera Tampa are Rossini’s “Cinderella,” Feb 10-12 in the more intimate Ferguson Hall, and Puccini’s “Tosca,” April 7-9.
On March 25, the company’s founding artistic director, Anton Coppola, will return to conduct the some of his favorite pieces. Coppola will celebrate his 100th birthday just four days before the concert.