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Friday, April 10, 2015

Plan to See Tacoma Opera's Production of Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" This Weekend — TWO DAYS ONLY!

Tenor Christopher Bengochea 

I’m hearing voices in my head today, but don’t worry about me. They aren’t  imagined, just enjoyable memories of the preview of Tacoma Opera’s Roméo et Juliette. I attended the final dress rehearsal, but the actual performances take place today, Friday, April 10, and Sunday, April 12, at the elegant and historic Pantages Theater, part of the Broadway Center For the Arts, in downtown Tacoma. I urge anyone reading this to go, even if you never think of going to an opera. Try it, and discover what you have missed. If you hesitate, you will have missed this fleeting opportunity. 

Imagine yourself in a comfortable seat in this beautiful performance space. When the curtains open, the view of Verona, Italy, (gorgeous sets by Noel Koran, who also directed) with richly colored scenery and costumes, appears to have come straight from an Old Master painter’s palette, with touches of gold leaf added here and there. Then the painting comes alive. 

Long before William Shakespeare wrote his tragic play, Romeo and Juliet, the classic story of ill-fated lovers whose families hate each other and reconcile only after the couple dies existed in various versions. Composer Charles Gounod’s opera in five acts premiered in Paris during another April long before this one, in the year 1867. Like that performance, the one I saw was sung in French, but projected subtitles made it so much easier for those of us who would otherwise be lost, if not for our basic knowledge of the plot. Even my companion for the evening, who speaks French, found them helpful, while noting that some phrases cannot translate with exactly the right meaning. We both totally enjoyed the visual presentation (including the exquisite costumes designed by Elizabeth Wislar), the fine orchestra lead by award-winning conductor Keith Clark, and most of all, the singing. The sound quality, volume, and balance seemed perfect. Evan Ritter's lighting added its own drama and beauty.

It was not until the next day that I had time to thoroughly read the program and the impressive cast biographies. Once I learned about the years of training and  experience represented on the grand old theater’s stage, I understood why the performance seemed so flawless and professional. I also appreciated how much excellent acting I saw under Koran's direction, in addition to the singing I heard. Every face and voice expressed joy, humor, passion, pain, and heartache with convincing realism.

Soprano Ksenia Popova 

I could write pages about the quality of the voices and sincerely praise every member of the cast. As Romeo, tenor Christopher Bengochea sang with both power and great tenderness. When it comes to women’s voices, my ears tend to favor alto over soprano, but I loved the singing of Ksenia Popova in the role of Juliette. Can you picture golden honey flowing over pearls in a crystal bowl, a sensation of warmth, sensuousness and sweetness combined with sparkling brilliance and clarity? This, my friends, is opera. I hope you will order your tickets here and now.

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