Opera Review: ROMÉO & JULIETTE (San Diego Opera)

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by Jordon Julien on April 22, 2022

in Theater-San Diego


There are about two dozen operas based on Romeo & Juliet. Gounod’s version is the only one that has remained in the standard repertory.

Pene Pati is Romeo and Nicolle Cabell is Juliette

When Gounod had the idea of starting Roméo et Julietta in 1867 he’d already had a big hit with another adaptation — an opera based on Goethe’s Faust. For Roméo et Julietta, he collaborated with the same librettists: Jules Barbier & Michel Carré. The libretto sticks closely to Shakespeare’s original, even quoting lines directly. It also cuts a few scenes, focusing solely on the ill-fated lovers. The ending is modified in the grand opera tradition: In the play, when Juliet finally awakens in the tomb, Romeo is already dead. When Juliet awakens in the opera, Romeo is still breathing — enough time for a final duet.

Hadleigh Adams is Mercutio

After San Diego Opera’s laughably bad regional-theater staging of Le Nozze di Figaro earlier this season, I am happy to report that this rented Minnesota Opera production is a non-controversial traditional staging.

Sarah Coit is Stephano

Matthew Ozawa’s staging placed the opera in Shakespeare’s time rather than the original medieval period, allowing costume designer Sarah Bahr to dress the characters in standard-issue Elizabethan garb. William Boles’ scenic design consisted of a minimalistic set over which there were large hanging roses changing colors, inspired by mood rings. Despite a few gimmicks, much of Ozawa’s scene blocking was stand-and-sing static, especially in the crowd scenes.

Anthony Whitson-Martini as Count Paris,
Colin Ramsey is Count Capulet and Simon Lim is Friar Laurence

Nicole Cabell, a Southern California native whose career has taken her to the stages of the Metropolitan, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Royal Opera House did not disappoint the operahungry audience. Her Juliette proved her to be a full-voice lyric Soprano (essential for the large hall), beautiful top notes and no straining. She is a physically attractive and charismatic performer who easily captured Juliette’s teenage charm. Her beautiful floating notes, however, came at the expense of proper French diction, a non-issue for a non-French speaking audience.

A scene from San Diego Opera's Roméo et Juliette

The famous aria Je veux vivre dans le rêve” (“I want to live in dreams”), in which Juliette expresses her carefree teenage life, was a highlight. As she whirled around the stage, Cabell filled the house with effortless, beautiful runs and ornamentations. Her acting was broad enough for the big auditorium capturing Juliette’s innocence, infatuation, and subsequent pain with unaffected naturalism.

Pene Pati is Romeo, Sarah Coit is Stephano, Andrew Konopak is Gregorio
and (prone) Hadleigh Adams is Mercutio

For opera fanatics, this was an opportunity to see Pene Pati, a rising opera star, play the role of Romeo. Pati made his name by debuting the role in San Francisco in 2019 and he did not disappoint here. Pati has that magical je ne sais quoi star quality that certain performers are born with. His singing featured a full-bodied sound with a creamy mid-range and glorious, perfectly pitched top notes. His acting, while far from subtle, was well-pitched for the balcony. His performance of the showcase aria “Ah! Lève toi soleil” was a highlight of the evening, gaining him a well-deserved sustained ovation.

Andrew Konopak is Gregorio and Alexandra Rodrick is Gertrude

The San Diego Symphony under Francophone conductor Yves Abel, a French opera specialist, played like a dream, generating beautiful creamy sounds and beautifully supporting the singers. The San Diego Chorus acted and sang harmoniously well, complementing the orchestra and the soloists.

Nicolle Cabell is Juliette with members of the San Diego Opera chorus

Overall, this was a fine production, made special by the performance of a rising star tenor.

Colin Ramsey is Count Capulet with members of the San Diego Opera chorus

photos by Karli Cadel

Roméo et Julietta
San Diego Opera
San Diego Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave
ends on April 3, 2022
for tickets, call 619.533.7000 or visit SD Opera

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