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La Scena Musicale Online Reviews and News / Critiques et Nouvelles

Visit La Scena Musicale Online Reviews. [Index] Critiques de La Scena Musicale Online

Multimedia Romeo and Juliet a Promising Work in Progress

By Joseph So June 10, 2002

Judith Yan
Jennifer Bartsch, Tara Butler, Paul-Anthony Chambers, Donald Dawson, Clea Iveson, Bengt Jörgen (Dance)
Martha Guth, David Pomeroy, Andrew Tees (Opera)
Diana D'Aquila, John Dolan, Jonathan Goad, Tara Rosling, Michael Therriault, Kate Trotter (Drama)
Judith Yan, conductor
Members of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Richard Rose, director
Bengt Jörgen, choreographer

Toronto Centre for the Arts,
North York, Ontario
February 22, 2002

MODD, the name of the company that produced this multi-media Romeo and Juliet, stands for Music-Opera-Drama-Dance. It represents a collaboration of four major performing arts organizations in southern Ontario - Toronto Symphony, Canadian Opera Company, Stratford Festival, and Ballet Jörgen. The idea is to amalgamate the several art forms to tell the story of Romeo and Juliet. Is there a more appropriately universal theme than love that crosscuts all artistic expressions, and indeed life itself? Given that classical music and theatre audiences are characteristically conservative and slow to change, this project targeted a student audience that by nature is more receptive to innovations. Judging from the response of smallish but enthusiastic audience on Friday evening, the last of four shows, the initiative was a qualified success.

I say 'qualified' because the task of blending the different artistic genres to form a seamless 90-minute presentation is a daunting task. And a young audience with its notoriously short attention span poses additional challenges. One dilemma is in choosing drama, dance, or opera in representing which section of the story. As a result some wonderful possibilities were inevitably left out. Even though my first love is opera, I must say I missed the magical balcony scene from the ballet and the sublime music of Prokofiev. Gounod's version of Romeo et Juliette, however felicitous, emerged decidedly second rate to these ears. Also interesting is the addition of Bernstein's One Hand, One Heart for the wedding ceremony, a bit of 'cross-over' mixed in with the classics.

Also inherently problematic is the pairing of singers and dancers side by side, which underscores the enormously different physical demands of the two art forms. Dancers are by nature small and compact, with lean, well defined, youthful bodies capable of nuanced expressions of emotion through movement. Opera singers tend to be the opposite, given the sheer lung power and diaphragmatic support necessary to project the voice into the far reaches of the over-sized opera houses of today. Physical movements during singing are strictly limited, and though there is no consensus, a certain physical heft is deemed necessary by many for vocal longevity. Even though tenor David Pomeroy and soprano Martha Guth as the operatic lovers and baritone Andrew Tees as Mercutio/Friar are far from the proverbial fat opera singer, they certainly presented a very different visual element compared to the dancers and actors. No matter, they sang honourably if not with complete vocal ease, with Andrew Tees a particularly fine Friar.

There were really no sets to speak of other than an occasional prop, and costumes consisted of t-shirts with names of the characters written in bold letters on the back. One common element among the performers was their youth, including the actors who played the 'old' character parts such as the nurse and the Friar. Overall the actors were fine, with Michael Therriault a nerdy-looking Romeo and Diana D'Aquila a lively, earthy Nurse. The stage directions tended to be hit or miss, with a beautifully staged death scene for Mercutio. In the balcony scene, the two Juliets came face to face - an interesting twist.

A pickup orchestra with members of the Toronto Symphony under conductor Judith Yan, formerly of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble, played tentatively in the beginning with several instruments coming to grief. Fortunately, they pulled themselves together for a lovely rendering of the Prokofiev score in the Bedroom Scene. All in all, an interesting experiment, and if it attracted even a few young people to the classical genres, it would have been well worth it.

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