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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

Opera Ontario: Romeo et Juliette

By Joseph So October 26, 2005

For those opera lovers tired of concept productions that are all the rage these days, it is nice to know that realistic productions are still alive and well. Opera Ontario opened its fall season with an old-fashioned Romeo et Juliette with sets and costumes from L’Opera de Montreal. No postmodern deconstruction or socialist agenda here, just the retelling of a celebrated love story. So if you like a tree to look like one, this is the production for you. The sets are starting to show its age, but the romanticism remains undiminished.

The cast is entirely Canadian save for the Romeo, American tenor John Bellemer. His is a lyric tenor of pleasant timbre, and he looks the part, no small advantage as Romeo. On opening night, Bellemer took some time to warm up and ran into intonation problems with the high note that ended the big aria, ‘Ah, leve-toi, soleil!’ To his credit, he had the technique to rescue the note, ending it with a nice diminuendo. He subsequently recovered and sang beautifully the rest of the evening. Partnering him as Juliette was the rising Canadian soprano Laura Whalen, who looked lovely and sang with sparkling tone, with a few tight top notes and smudged coloratura passages notwithstanding. These two made a believable pair of lovers. The supporting cast was exceptionally strong. I should single out Thomas Goerz for his vocally sonorous Frere Laurent. Mezzo Norine Burgess was suitably realistic in the trouser role of Stephano. Fight director John Stead did wonders with the young cast - Eric Shaw (Tybalt) was utterly convincing in the duel. The company’s new general director David Speers made a creditable local conducting debut leading the Hamilton Philharmonic in a well paced reading of the score. With this opera, the company is expanding to five performances – three in Hamilton and two in Kitchener-Waterloo. This Romeo et Juliette augers well for the future.

Photo credit: Dave Grugger Laura Whalen (Juliette), John Bellemer (Romeo), Thomas Goerz (Frere Laurent)

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