27 June 2019
Springer Auditorium, Music Hall

Opera in five acts
Music by Charles Gounod
Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré based on the tragedy by William Shakespeare

Conductor: Ramón Tebar
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
Chorus Master: Henri Venanzi
Cincinnati Opera Chorus

Director: Matthew Ozawa
Set Designer: William Boles
Costume Designer: Sarah Bahr
Lighting Designer: Thomas C. Hase
Wig and Make-up Designer: James Geier
Choreographer: Oğulcan Borova
Fight Director: Gina Cerimele-Mechley
Production Stage Manager: Megan Bennett
This is a co-production of Cincinnati Opera and Minnesota Opera

Roméo: Matthew White
Juliette: Nicole Cabell
Capulet: Thomas Dreeze
Friar Laurence: Kenneth Shaw
Mercutio: Hadleigh Adams
Stephano: Reilly Nelson
Benvolio: Darian Clonts
Gertrude: Catherine Keen
Tybalt: Piotr Buszewski
Paris: Simon Barrad
Gregorio: Phillip Bullock
Duke of Verona: Vernon Hartman
Cincinnati Ballet dancers: Edward Gonzales, Abbey Kay, Marcus Romeo, Maizyalet Velásquez

Yesterday marked the 99th anniversary, to the day, of the Cincinnati Opera’s very first performance in 1920, and the company celebrated the occasion in fine style with this outstanding production of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. The musical performance was flawless, with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in superb form under the sensitive conducting of Maestro Ramón Tebar, and a cast who had no weak links at all. The protagonists were portrayed by established star Nicole Cabell, winner of the 2005 Cardiff Singer of the World competition, as Juliette and star on the rise Matthew White as Roméo. A Cincinnati favorite who has previously sung Mimi, Rosalinde, and Countess Almaviva with the company, Ms. Cabell produced her familiar lustrous, creamy tone and dispatched the coloratura in “Je veux vivre” with effortless ease. The “spy” who tipped off CO Artistic Director Evans Mirageas about Mr. White when Frédéric Antoun unexpectedly canceled his appearances here about a month ago knew what he/she was talking about. The young singer has an attractive lyric tenor with absolutely secure, ringing high notes, and he delivered a gorgeous account of “Ah! lève-toi, soleil!” that drew cheers from the audience. I won’t be surprised if he makes a name for himself in the bel canto repertoire as well as roles such as Gounod’s Faust, Massenet’s Des Grieux, or Bizet’s Nadir. That he’s also good-looking won’t hurt. In fact, both he and Ms. Cabell made a handsome couple and were dramatically engaged with their characters, earning a thunderous standing ovation at the curtain. Alongside them, Hadleigh Adams was a convincing Mercutio with his full, warm baritone, Piotr Buszewski embodied the hot-tempered Tybalt with a pleasing lyric tenor (he’s sung Roméo at the Academy of Vocal Arts and is slated for Nemorino with Germany’s Leipzig Opera), and Kenneth Shaw’s resonant bass lent Friar Laurent the requisite authority and benevolence. There was a captivatingly cheeky Stephano from Reilly Nelson, who sang the taunting “Que fais tu, blanche tourterelle” with an agile lyric mezzo, while mezzo Catherine Keen brought a rich, ripe tone to Juliette’s Nurse. Thomas Dreeze lent an attractive lyric baritone to Count Capulet (almost too youthful-sounding for this family patriarch), and his baritone colleague Simon Barrard made a favorable impression as Count Paris. The excellence in this cast extended to baritone Vernon Hartman’s Duke of Verona, baritone Phillip Bullock’s Gregorio, and tenor Darian Clonts’ Benvolio – Mr. Bullock and Mr. Clonts both being Cincinnati Opera Young Artists. The Cincinnati Opera Chorus, prepared by Henri Venanzi, sang marvelously and were likewise totally engaged in the proceedings; kudos are also due the fine quartet of dancers from the Cincinnati Ballet, Edward Gonzales, Abbey Kay, Marcus Romeo, and Maizyalet Velásquez, who appeared in both the Act I ball scene and later during the musical interlude representing Juliette’s simulated death. The opera was performed with only one intermission, breaking in the middle of Act III between the protagonists’ marriage and the brawl in which Roméo kills Tybalt.

Matthew Ozawa’s production is traditional, pairing Sarah Bahr’s beautiful Renaissance costumes with William Boles’ stylized sets. There were no lavish, historically detailed interiors à la Zeffirelli; instead, the background was dominated by a set of four or more large roses, which were shaded in a variety of crimson, teal blue, gold, silver, or bronze tints depending on the scene, and a carved wooden coffered ceiling with a central medallion. A set of three rectangular frames, sometimes horizontal and sometimes vertical, featured in some scenes, filled either with a series of swords/daggers, or with black-and-white drawings of Renaissance architecture. For the famous balcony scene, Juliette appeared behind a railing in the middle of a huge wooden picture frame with an interior framework of 12 blocks containing carved rosettes. As all of these elements could be lowered from the flies and later raised again, I suspect some sort of scrim or drop scene was involved. To facilitate scene changes, supernumeraries carried props including a long table with a vase of flowers, a long, low bench, assorted chairs, and an altar on- and offstage. Most of the Capulets were garbed in red with gold or gray, while the Montagues wore blue paired with silver or gray. The whole was quite colorful and attractive, and served to focus attention on the drama. I only wonder why the two protagonists appeared in modern attire during the overture (with everyone else in historic costumes) and again in the final scene in the Capulets’ tomb. What was the point? It’s no secret that throughout history, people who fell in love or fall in love with someone of a different race, ethnic group, nationality, religion, or even social class were/are ostracized – or worse. (Up until the middle of the 20th century, it was illegal in some parts of the U.S. to marry a person of a different race.) So we didn’t need to be reminded that such situations still exist, and the modern dress just seemed superfluous in a staging that was already entirely convincing.