Soprano Alejandres lights up FGO’s “Roméo et Juliette”

By David Fleshler

María Alejandres and Sébastien Guèze star in Florida Grand Opera's "Romeo et Juliette." Photo: Gaston de Cardenas

Radiant singing, irritating stage direction and a farewell from Florida Grand Opera’s longtime leader marked the company’s opening-night performance of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette Saturday at the Arsht Center in Miami.

The Mexican soprano María Alejandres made a deeply affecting Juliette, giving an impassioned, gorgeously sung performance that would by itself have made the production a success. Matching her well, the French tenor Sébastien Guèze brought to the role of Roméo the silken voice of a classic romantic leading man.

This season-closing production is the final run for Robert Heuer, FGO’s general director since 1985. Before the performance, he came on stage and made a gracious speech, thanking the audience for their support over the years and, with an eye on his yet-to-be-named successor’s task, urging them to resubscribe for next season.

“I wanted to take the opportunity to come out and thank you for all the warmth I’ve felt from you during my 33 years at FGO,” said Heuer, who began with the company in 1979 as production director. He said the search for a successor is well underway. “I urge you when the next general director comes on board, to welcome him or her as warmly as you have me.”

Heuer’s final production was a largely successful one, doing justice to the warmth and drama of Gounod’s score.

The only real flaw was the intrusive stage direction of David Lefkowich, whose on-stage action was more busy than effective. He kept filling scenes with distracting, unnecessary action, as if he didn’t trust the power of Shakespeare’s story and Gounod’s music to carry the opera. During the prelude, silent figures showed up on stage to engage in slow-motion fighting. At the beginning of Juliette’s appearance on the balcony, four female dancers appear and engage in “graceful” movements at a moment when the focus should be on Juliette and the music. And during her Potion aria, as she works up the courage to take the poison that will put her into a coma, six pantomime “phantoms” crowd around her and make menacing gestures, as if we wouldn’t understand that she’s afraid to swallow the potion.

Alejandres handled with ease the coloratura demands of her early arias Écoutez! écoutez! and Je veux vivre dans le rêve, singing with liquid, effortlessly pitch-perfect tone. But it was her portrayal of the role’s more lyric and dramatic side in which she really shone. When Juliette realizes her new lover comes from the despised Montague family, she fell to her knees and sang with dark, mourning tones, as if she could foresee all that was to come. Her finest moment came in the Potion aria, as she sat in her white-shrouded bedchamber with the potion at hand, singing with great power and an edge of desperate, dramatic courage.

Alejandres, who performed the title role of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor last month at Palm Beach Opera, will sing the role of Violetta in next season’s FGO production of Verdi’s La Traviata, and judging from her performance Saturday, it will be well worth attending.

As Romeo, Guèze brought a smooth legato to a portrayal that was more romantic than heroic, fitting for the young lover. While his voice isn’t large, it has an intensity, ping and youthful quality that served the role well. In Ah! Levè-toi solei, as he meditates on Juliette’s beauty, he brought tightly focused, climactic high notes. And throughout his love duets with Alejandres, the attractive warmth and ease of production of his tones made for a convincing portrayal of young love.

The orchestra, led by guest conductor Joseph Mechavich, music director of the Kentucky Opera, gave the singers firm support without ever overpowering them. And it brought out the richly colored romanticism of Gounod’s score, rising to its moments of prominence in the bedchamber duet of the two lovers and Juliette’s collapse into a drug-induced coma.

The chorus, although barely audible in the prelude, gave a particularly fine performance, especially as the plot and music darkened, with its best work coming in the climactic fight scene, where it mourns two deaths and the exile of Roméo, singing in impassioned, rich, well-balanced tones.

The secondary roles were very much a mixed bag. To the role of Mercutio, Jonathan G. Michie brought a rich, agile baritone, giving a vigorous and well-characterized account of the Queen Mab aria. As Tybalt, the tenor Daniel Shirley gave a hot-headed, on-target performance.

The bass-baritone Stephen Morscheck was a bit tonally uncentered as Count Capulet, as was Craig Colclough as Frère Laurent. The baritone Joo Won Kang brought regal heft to the small but crucial role of the Duke of Verona. Mezzo-soprano Courtney McKeown gave a gracefully sung performance as the young page Stephano. As Juliette’s maid Gertrude, Cindy Sadler bustled around effectively.

The set, from a Minnesota Opera production, consisted of gray stone walls that shifted around through the evening to serve as the Capulets’ ballroom, the balcony of Juliette’s house, her bedchamber and her tomb.

Florida Grand Opera’s production of Roméo et Juliette runs through May 5 at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami and May 10 and 12 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale., 800-741-1010.

Posted in Performances

3 Responses to “Soprano Alejandres lights up FGO’s “Roméo et Juliette””

  1. Posted Apr 22, 2012 at 3:33 pm by Nina Wall

    The prologue was supposed to be Quiet. That was the point. Sinister
    Dark & mysterious. You were supposed to want for more. It was to set the
    Tone for what was to follow. So we, the chorus did what the
    Conductor asked if us.

  2. Posted Apr 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm by George Mattox

    I agree that the soprano Marie Alejandre did an excellent job as Juliette, however the same can’t be said of the other singers, especially Romeo. I don’t know how many tenors you have heard (I’ve heard Gedda, Kraus, Domingo, Bjorling(only on recordings), Pavarotti, Carreras, etc. etc.)and this tenor is not very good. A tight voice with no beauty of tone.

  3. Posted Apr 25, 2012 at 12:32 am by Great job!

    The entire cast has been singing very well, especially Miss Alejandres. It’s not quite fair to compare Mr. Gueze to legends like Pavatorri, Bjorling, and Domingo. He has a lovely voice in his own right. The prologue sung pianissimo instead of the traditional forte brought a different kind of intensity.

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Sun Apr 22, 2012
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