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Friday, June 6, 2008

PORTopera's Romeo et Juliette Cast


PORTLAND, Maine Romo et Juliette, the renowned French composer Charles Gounod's operatic interpretation of the legendary Shakespearean tragedy, has long remained one of France's most prized operas. PORTopera will present this classic opera on July 24 and 26 at Portland's Merrill Auditorium. The roles of the famed star-crossed lovers in PORTopera's production will be played by Gaston Rivero (Romo) and Jennifer Black (Juliette).

Uruguay-born tenor Gaston Rivero, finalist and prizewinner at the 2007 Montserrat Caball International Singing Contest, was described by The New York Sun as a "true Italianate tenor" with a "beautiful, arresting voice." Rivero made his professional opera debut in 2004 with Opera Orchestra of New York, and has recently performed the roles of Don Jos in Carmen with the Knoxville Opera and Alfredo in La Traviata with Palm Beach Opera among many others. He sang as Romeo earlier this year for Opera Carolina.

American lyric soprano Jennifer Black, who completed the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program in 2008, will play Juliette. A native of Houston, Texas, Black was recently awarded a 2008 Opera Index Award. She made her Santa Fe Opera debut as Micela in Carmen during the 2006 summer season and returned there for her role debut as Mimi in La Bohme in the summer of 2007. The Santa Fe New-Mexican called her performance as Mimi, "gleaming and glorious, with wonderful nuances of light and shade and complete dynamic control" and referred to her arias as "meltingly sung." The Denver Post wrote, "The evening's revelation was soprano Jennifer Black Ķ. She lit up the stage as Micala, with her pleasingly dulcet voice highlighted by nice, rounded tones and an adroit sense of phrasing."

The other roles in Romo et Juliette will be performed by:

  • Mezzo-soprano Lauren McNeese: Romeo's page, Stphano.
    McNeese's voice has been described by critics as "creamy," "with bright shimmer like ripples in clear water." She is a graduate of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center of Lyric Opera of Chicago. McNeese is well known to PORTopera fans, having appeared as Rosina in the 2007 production of Barber of Seville. Engagements for 2008 and beyond include performances with Los Angeles Opera as La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi conducted by James Conlon and directed by Woody Allen, the Second Lady in Die Zauberflte and Wellgunde in Das Rheingold both conducted by James Conlon. She will be making her Philadelphia Opera debut as L'enfant in L'enfant et les sortilges and as La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi conducted by Corrado Rovaris and directed by Robert B. Driver. In the 2009-2010 seasons McNeese looks forward to being a part of the Los Angeles Ring Cycle under the baton of James Conlon as Wellgunde in Das Rheingold and Gtterdmmerung.
  • Baritone Michael Mayes: Mercutio.
    His operatic roles include Wagner in Faust, Sciarrone in Tosca, and Marullo in Rigoletto, Escamillo in Carmen, and Malatesta in Don Pasquale. He has appeared internationally in conjunction with La Fenice in Castelfranco Veneto, Italy. Mayes' honors include 3rd place winner at the Metropolitan National Council Auditions in Chicago, the Entergy Young Texas Artist Competition Vocalist Award, John Alexander Award, the John Moriarty Award, and an advanced division winner at the Anton Guadagno Vocal Competition.
  • American bass-baritone Jeffrey Wells: Count Capulet.
    Wells entered the opera world in his late-20s after a background in Broadway musical theater, and has now appeared with every major opera company in the United States. He is a regular performer with the Metropolitan Opera, where he has sung roles including the role he will sing for PORTopera, Capulet in Romo et Juliette. Past roles at the Met include Colline in La Boheme, Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Timur in Turandot, Escamillo in Carmen, and The King in Aida. Wells sang in PORTopera's 2005 production of Carmen. He will return to the Metropolitan Opera for the 2008-09 season.
  • Tenor John McVeigh: Tybalt.
    A resident of Portland, McVeigh has been acclaimed for his "fresh-toned and touching" performance by Opera News and lauded by the New Orleans Times-Picayune for his "rich lyrical tenor, fabulous top notes, and striking good looks." He frequently performs works of the classical and baroque repertoire, and is an accomplished presence on the concert stage as well as in opera houses worldwide. McVeigh has become renowned for his performances of the Novice in Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd, having sung the role in his debuts with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Los Angeles Opera, Washington National Opera, Genoa's Teatro Carlo Felice, as well as in a return to Houston Grand Opera. He has sung Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream in his debut at the Teatro Real, Central City Opera, and Utah Opera as well as Johnny Inkslinger in Paul Bunyan, also with Central City Opera and Hot Biscuit Slim in the same opera in performances at New York City Opera that were broadcast on Live from Lincoln Center on PBS. He sang Tybalt in Romo et Juliette with the Houston Grand Opera Studio and is a familiar face to Portland audiences, having sung with the Portland Symphony Orchestra.
  • Jordan Bisch: Frre Laurent.
    A native of Vancouver, WA, Bisch is a Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Grand Finals winner and joined the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program during the 200506 season. This season, as a guest performer, Bisch performed Sarastro in Juilliard Opera Theater's production of The Magic Flute. Last season he returned to the Met stage as a Trojan in Idomeneo, conducted by Maestro Levine. Bisch is a recipient of a 2005 Sara Tucker Study Grant and 2006 Richard Tucker Career Grant.
  • Standish, Maine native Sara Sturdivant: Gertrude.
    Sturdivant holds both a Bachelors Degree and Masters Degree in voice performance from the University of Southern Maine, and most recently acquired a Professional Studies Diploma in voice from the Mannes College of Music in New York City. She is currently a teaching artist in New York City with the Metropolitan Opera Guild, where she teaches 1st, 3rd, 6th, and 8th grades in the Urban Voices and Speak, Play, Sing! Programs. Sturdivant is a former member of PORTopera's Maine's Emerging Artists Program; this is her first main stage role for PORTopera.
  • Malcolm Smith: The Duke (Duc de Verone).
    One of America's leading basses, Smith has appeared with the world's major operatic and symphonic organizations. Smith sang the role of Duc de Verone in Romo et Juliette at the Spoleto Festival USA. He has performed with such renowned companies as the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg Opera Munich Opera Vienna State Opera, and the Paris Opera Bastille, among many others. In 1996, the honorary title of "Kammersaenger"
    (awarded for exceptional achievements in opera) was bestowed on Smith by the Opera in Dsseldorf, where he had been Principal Bass since 1971. He is a resident of Cape Elizabeth and a member of the USM School of Music faculty. Smith sang in PORTopera's production of Don Giovanni in 2006.

Romo et Juliette has a large chorus of 40 singers, will be accompanied by a full orchestra and will feature dancers from Portland Ballet in a newly choreographed prelude. The opera will be sung in French, with translation provided in English supertitles, appearing above the stage.

Artistic Director Dona D. Vaughn has been with PORTopera since its premiere production of Carmen in 1995. Now in its 14th season of performances, this will be Vaughn's 6th as Artistic Director. Her extensive directing credits include international and national productions for New York City Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Michigan Opera Theater, Berkshire Opera, Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, New York Shakespeare Festival, and New York Repertory Theater.

New to PORTopera, conductor Israel Gursky has been an assistant conductor under Placido Domingo for the Washington National Opera since 2001 and has also been principal coach and chorus master at Wolf Trap Opera for seven seasons. He is currently in Paris with Placido Domingo, preparing for the world premiere of The Fly, an opera adaptation of the horror film. The Fly will open in Paris on July 1 and will have its US premiere in Los Angeles in September. Recent performances include a critically acclaimed Don Giovanni with the Washington National Opera, Werther at the University of Maryland, Transformations at Manhattan School of Music as well as a tour of China and Singapore, conducting the Shanghai Opera Orchestra. Gursky serves on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and Mannes College of Music in New York and recently won a conducting award from the George Solti Foundation.

For more information about PORTopera's presentations of Romo et Juliette visit Tickets for the July 24 and 26 performances are available online at, by phone, (207) 842-0800, or in person at the 20 Myrtle Street box office in Portland, Maine between noon and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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