Metropolitan Opera Preview 2016 -17: Diana Damrau & Vittorio Grigolo To Bring Chemistry to ‘Romeo et Juliette’

By David Salazar

Gounod’s beloved “Romeo Juliette” returns to the Met on New Years Eve with a star cast that includes two singers that had electric chemistry in another great French work a few years ago.

The Performers

Diana Damrau and Vittorio were a dynamic duo when they took the stage for Massenet’s “Manon” back in March 2015. Their chemistry was revered by all who witnessed the season’s big event, making their “Romeo et Juliette” one of the most anticipated productions in years.

Damrau is making her role debut, the fifth such instance at the Metropolitan. Previous role debuts at the big house include “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” “Le Comte Ory” and “La Sonnambula.” Last season the soprano took on Bizet’s rarely performed work “Les Pecheurs de Perles” for which she received rave reviews.

Grigolo performed Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” at the big house a year ago and will also be performing Massenet’s “Werther” in New York in February.

The two will renew their chemistry in “Hoffmann” in March at the Los Angeles Opera with Placido Domingo in the pit.

Damrau and Grigolo get eight and nine performances of the opera this season respectively, but the opera itself gets a total of 14 throughout the run. Amanda Woodbury gets a shot on Jan. 25 while Pretty Yende will star alongside Stephen Costello when the production returns in March.

As Stephano, audiences will see Virgine Verrez in January and Paula Murrihy in March. For the winter performances, Elliot Madore will sing Mercutio while Yunpeng Wang will take on Romeo’s best friend in March. Mikhail Petrenko and Matthew Rose will alternate the role of Frere Laurent. Gianandrea Noseda  conducts the winter performances while Emmanuel Villaume takes on the second run.

The Opera

The opera itself has been called an “extensive duet” in part because of the number of duos the eponymous characters sing throughout the evening. In total, there are four duets with the most famous, “Va! Je t’ai pardonne” filled with some of the most famous melodies in the entire work.

Of course the most popular piece is Juliette’s “Je veux vivre,” a virtuosic and bright waltz which offers a fantastic contrast with her darker and more dramatic potion aria.

Romeo gets his own famous aria “Ah! Leve-toi soleil,” while his friend Mercutio pays homage to Queen Mab.

This production will be directed by Bartlett Sher, who put together this very production back in 2008 with Rolando Villazon and Nino Machaidze as the star-crossed lovers.

Notable Recordings

For those that want to know what to expect from Sher’s production, the DVD of the production is the way to go. It was released in 2009 by Deutsche Gramophon, stars Villazon and Machaidze, and features Yannick Nezet-Seguin.

Another famed DVD performance features a very young Robert Alagna alongside Romanian soprano Leontina Vaduva at the Royal Opera Covent Garden. Alagna also has a famed recording with another Romanian soprano, his former wife Angela Gheorghiu released by EMI.

Franco Corelli and Mirella Freni have a celebrated audio release, as does Placido Domingo with Ruth Ann Swenson.

Jussi Bjorling and Bidu Sayao is seen by many as the reference recording, but the same can be said for the Catherine Malfitano and Alfredo Kraus account.