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A powerful combination

by Jules Becker
Thursday Jul 28, 2022

David Angus. Photo provided by Jennifer Astin.
David Angus. Photo provided by Jennifer Astin.  

Romeo & Juliet, Boston Lyric Opera and Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Boston Common, August 11 & 13. Free.

Twenty years ago Boston Lyric Opera entranced Hub opera lovers with a captivating "Carmen" at the Boston Common. Now the BLO is returning to the Parkman Bandstand for a joint production of the Charles Gounod opera "Romeo & Juliet." Recently David Angus—the company's music director since 2010—discussed the 1867 opera and the BLO-CSC collaboration.

"We do the theatrical side and the musical side," Angus explained. Noting that "Opera has so many facets," he offered, "When everything is working together, it's such a powerful combination." For the Boston Common English language edition, collaborators Angus and CSC artistic director Steve Maler are employing the Edward Tracey translation of the original Jules Barbier and Michel Carre French libretto. "It's a fairly modern translation," Angus submitted. "It's all about communication."

That communication unsurprisingly focuses on the title lovers. "Romeo & Juliet" may be rarely staged—even Angus admits "I've never done the whole opera," but Gounod's passionate love duets are rightly prized. "The love duets and the fights (as in Shakespeare's play) are fantastic," he declared. High points in the opera include Mercutio's Queen Mab ballad, Juliet's well-known waltz, Romeo's declaration of love and their moving closing duet.

To keep the love of Romeo and Juliet at center stage, Angus stressed, "We've cut down all the ceremonial material (where the original opera included five acts). We want people to concentrate on the lovers. '' To that end, the production is just over two hours in length including an interval. "It's all about those fantastic love duets," he alerted. Even so, this collaboration is adding "spoken text, narration and readings. We want to reinstate some of the Shakespearean sonnets." Moreover, some supporting roles take on additional importance in the Gounod opera. Tybalt, identified here as Lord Capulet's nephew, wants Juliet to marry Paris. Shakespeare's Nurse, here called Gertrude, "has become a bigger part."

At the same time, the BLO orchestra will be in black at the back of the stage in order not to distract from the singing and acting of the costumed cast. "We're doing it (the opera) in a fairly abstract way. It's a deliberate compromise. "The BLO chorus will be positioned above the orchestra on the three-level stage. Internationally renowned John Conklin is serving as the production's dramaturg.

Heading the BLO-CSC cast are Ricardo Garcia—in his BLO debut—as Romeo and Boston Conservatory at Berklee graduate Vanessa Becerra as Juliet. Nicholas LaGesse,an emerging artist at the BLO, is playing Mercutio and Omar Najmi—a frequent BLO cast member—Tybalt. Arielle Rogers-Wilkey, who will perform in upcoming BLO productions of "La Boheme" and "Omar '' is Gertrude and Philip Lima Friar Laurence. Joshua Conyers is portraying Lord Capulet and Fred C. VanNess Jr. Paris.

Angus looked to such a joint effort as an ideal approach for the BLO. "We want to be much more of a collaborator and a neighbor," he signaled. This fall, BLO will collaborate with Detroit Opera on a time-reversed "La Boheme" to be staged at the Emerson Colonial Theatre (September 23-October 2).