[Met Performance] CID:212010

New Production

Roméo et Juliette
Metropolitan Opera House, Tue, September 19, 1967

Debut : Paul-Emile Deiber, Jean Rosenthal

Roméo et Juliette (192)
Charles Gounod | Jules Barbier/Michel Carré
Franco Corelli

Mirella Freni

Frère Laurent
John Macurdy

Marcia Baldwin

John Reardon

Robert Schmorr

Shirley Love

Raymond Michalski

Charles Anthony

Gene Boucher

Lorenzo Alvary

Duke of Verona
Norman Scott

Francesco Molinari-Pradelli

Paul-Emile Deiber [Debut]

Rolf Gérard

Lighting Designer
Jean Rosenthal [Debut]

Milko Sparemblek

Production a gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Roméo et Juliette received twenty-two performances this season.

Production a gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Review 1:

Review of Conrad L. Osborne in The Financial Times

...To help the scenes move along, designer Rolf Gerard has created flimsy unit sets - gauze arches, some stand-up set-pieces, etc., in an all-service frame - that highlight nothing, do not truly "set" any scene, and never strike the faintest note of romantic richness or grandeur. In front of these sets people parade in tired poses in remarkably unpicturesque costumes. In short, the pictorial aspects of the production simply do not create a milieu that is interesting, let alone magical.

The Met cannot fairly be censured for failing to provide a top-quality cast of artists steeped in the idiom - such a cast could not be assembled today, which is the primary reason for the decline of this repertory. In the leads, we did at least have two voices of excellent quality, those of Mirella Freni and Franco Corelli. Miss Freni was enjoyable and touching. Her presence had an appealing innocence and impulsiveness, over and above her sheer good looks, and while one has heard renditions of "je veux vivre" that had more point and lilt, hers was warm, accurate, and pretty, and later on she gave us a quantity of round toned, sensitively phrased vocalism.

Mr. Corelli also cuts a splendid figure, as they used to say, and while his acting was frequently posey, it also had moments of real intensity and flair, and in fact he was the most persuasive duelist of all the Capuleti and Montecchi on the stage. His singing had its customary bigness and fervent ring, and while it could not be said that he came very close to a truly French styling of the music, he did manage some beautifully controlled effects - an even, resonant diminuendo on the final B flat of "Ah! lève-toi soleil," and a beautifully graded rendition of the lovely little apostrophe that ends the Balcony Scene. Both he and Miss Freni sang with that cheerful, insouciant disregard of the French language that only Italian singers seem able to summon. (We Americans come no closer, but we are not cheerful and insouciant about it.)

The supporting roles were taken to generally poor effect. John Macurdy (Frère Laurent), away from the declamatory demands of the Wagnerian parts in which he is ill-cast, provided some very attractive "cantante" vocalism in the Wedding Scene, but his voice and personality have insufficient colour to enliven the tragic potion scene, and like most contemporary bassos, he does not have the authoritative low notes that Gounod obviously heard when penning this music. John Reardon sang Mercutio cloudily and enacted the Queen Mab ballad in the fashion commonly referred to as "Mickey Mouse."

Raymond Michalski was apparently hampered by a directorial concept so that his Capulet came off as a sort of buffoon dancing-master, thus robbing him of the stature necessary to his spot in the drama. His excellent voice showed an alarming proclivity for the hooted tone. Marcia Baldwin sang Stephano's song with pleasant sound and some stylishness, but Charles Anthony was a blatant-sounding Tybalt.

The conductor was Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, who secured a reasonable unanimity from his forces, but who betrayed scant sympathy with the fragrance and expansiveness that are essential ingredients of this music. "Romèo" is welcome in the Metropolitan's repertory, but I cannot imagine that the current revival is going to spark any sustained interest in the piece from a new generation of opera-goers.

Review 2:

Review of Harold C. Schonberg in The New York Times

Gounod composed "Romeo et Juliette" as a five-act opera. But no opera house, in this speeded-up age, can go for five acts, especially when at the magic stroke of midnight overtime occurs. The Metropolitan Opera, in its revival last night, compressed the five acts into three. There were a few cuts along the way, but nothing worth discussing until the last act (Gounod's last act, that is), where suddenly great sections were lopped away, including Juliette's big aria starting "Dieu! quel frisson." In fairness to the Metropolitan Opera, it should be pointed out that this is also generally cut in Paris, much to the relief of the soprano. It is a difficult aria.

To compensate for the last-act cut, the Metropolitan Opera in this new production has added quite a bit of ballet music

There is a bit of a story about that in addition. Gounod composed the score in 1867, and it was done, with ballet, at the Theatre Lyrique. When "Romeo et Juliette" moved to the Opera, Gounod composed new ballet music. But the Metropolitan has gone back to the 1867 version for the ballet music. The parts came from the personal library of Harry G. Schumer, the Metropolitan's librarian.

Rolf Gerard has done the sets and costumes. Most of the money of this production has gone into the costumes. They are elaborate, and the stage is crowded with people. The Metropolitan Opera has not stinted. The scenery, however, is rather skimpy. It is based on a unit set, with very few props, and with a mixture of stylization and naturalism. The balcony scene, for instance, has a real balcony. But in the cloister scene there are skeletons of arches all over the stage, supposed to depict a church. This kind of presentation begins to be tiresome in its basic lack of imagination.

But there is enough color and dash in the production to make it work, and the Metropolitan Opera should be encouraged in this repertory. It has been very weak in the French repertory in recent decades, and "Romeo et Juliette" might be the first step into an investigation of a succulent period of opera.

"Romeo et Juliette" was very popular in the past, though in recent years it has dropped from favor, and its last Metropolitan Opera presentation was about 20 years ago. Eames, Melba, Farrar, Bori, Galli-Curci ... the very halls of the Metropolitan quiver with the recollections of great Juliettes. It is a pretty opera, with the virtues and defects of the period. There are two very famous (and deservedly so) arias-the Waltz, sung by Juliette, and Romeo's "Ah, léve toi,

soleil." Less known, but also fine, are Mercutio's "Queen Mab" solo and Stephano's exceedingly lovely "Que fais-tu, blanche touterelle." There also are good choruses and some fine smaller ensembles.

The defects are in Gounod's blandness, his refusal to tincture the even texture with any hint of strength-a dissonance or two, anything to break the mood. And the cloister scene really is too gooey to take. Yet "Romeo et Juliette" has a great deal of period charm, and when well sung can still be a rewarding experience.

It was, on the whole, well sung last night, though purists in the French style may object to the diction and to certain Italianate traits of the leading singers. But what to do? There are not enough stylists in the French repertory to go around, and the alternative is to have no French Opera at the Metropolitan. That obviously will not do.

The two, principal roles were sung by Franco Corelli and Mirella Freni. This performance may mark a significant step in the tenor's career. He did not blast his way through the opera, and even tried for some pianissimo singing. In "Ah, léve toi," he took a stentorian final B flat, and then tapered off a diminuendo that was as pleasant as it was unexpected.

It is true that under his singing there is a sob always threatening to erupt, and it was not entirely absent last night, but Mr. Corelli is trying hard to add a new dimension to his singing, and he is beginning to achieve it. He was in good voice, producing that big orotund sound. He also looked young and ardent, probably the most handsome Romeo since Jean de Reszke.

Miss Freni was enchanting: a slip of a girl, all wide-eyed innocence, with an appealing vocal texture and enough technique to handle the coloratura episodes of the waltz and the big high C at its end. For this she got an ovation. She and Mr. Corelli made a very convincing pair.

Very effective, too, both as singers and actors, were Charles Anthony as Tybalt and John Reardon as Mercutio. Marcia Baldwin turned in a fine job as Stephano, and it was also nice to see that veteran, Lorenzo Alvary, blustering around the stage as Gregorio. Raymond Michalski sang a sturdy Capulet, and John Macurdy a resonant Friar Laurent.

The conductor was Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, a sound man, who led the performance with vigor, a fine rhythmic sense and a good deal of style. Two debuts were those of Jean Rosenthal, who supplied the lighting, and Paul-Emile Deiber, who staged the opera. Mr. Deiber's big thing was the concept of the frozen tableau. Thus when Romeo sees Juliette, the stage darkens, everybody freezes, Romeo soliloquizes, and then the lights go on. The same occurred in the battle scene. Here the device was embarrassingly stagey. Otherwise the direction was conventional.

Miss Rosenthal's contribution, as always, was expert. Still another debut was that of Milko Sparemblek, the choreographer. His ballet - it is a big one - will be discussed by Clive Barnes after the next performance of "Romeo et Juliette."

Photographs of Franco Corelli and Mirella Freni in the title roles of Roméo et Juliette by Louis Mélançon/Metropolitan Opera.

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