Teatro alla Scala 2019-20 Review: Roméo et Juliette

Vittorio Grigolo & Diana Damrau Shine In Gounod’s Famed Opera

By Raffaello Malesci

The Teatro alla Scala in Milan presented Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” in a production by the American director Bartlett Sher and revived by Dan Rigazzi.

For this production, the tragedy of the Verona lovers, with the libretto by Carré and Barbier, is set in an eighteenth-century Italian city, with a sumptuous neoclassical style palace at the core of the scenery designed by Michael Yeargan.

Not That Original

It must be noted that while the production seems to aim at an elaborate retelling of the work, many of the sets actually lack true specificity and often rely on generalizations and some degree of stereotyping. In the first act the square in front of the palace is populated by a lot of masked characters to celebrate the opening feast. Despite some hints of “commedia dell’arte” masks, there is also some confusion about the presence of some southern Italian masks like Pulicinella. This gives it the flavor of a stereotyped Venetian carnival, accurate but not particularly original. Nothing changes after the intermission, except that we see a nice but somehow conventional Italian grocery market and for the last scene there is a vaguely renaissance style crypt, with large marble sarcophagi.

The opera is directed in a very classical way, relying on conventional solutions. And while there is gracefulness in much of the execution, it does often feel like the experience is a trivial and touristic perspective of Italy. That said, the stage, imposing as it is, is often nice to look at, and the production overall is enhanced by the elegant and rich costumes by Catherine Zuber.

New Life

Musically, Maestro Lorenzo Viotti gave “Roméo et Juliette” a fresh take with his wonderful guidance. Alongside the orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, he found an ample palette from which to draw. The chorus numbers, such as “Vérone vit jadis deux familles rivals” were hieratical and liturgical, reminding one of Gounod’s deep religiosity. There was a  jauntiness in the ballads, such as “Mab, la reine des Mesonges” and a searing romanticism throughout the love duets and solos of the two leading roles. The conductor also managed to make sense of even the most conventional parts of Gounod’s score, which in truth are more than a few, including the “ballad style” Introduction of the first act, “L’heure s’envole,” and the Stéphano’s song “Que fais-tu, blanche tourturelle.” Here Viotti lightened the orchestra and infused it with a sense of irony.

But his biggest assets were his two lead singers.

Tenor Vittorio Grigolo was the king of the evening. He was an excellent Roméo, exhibiting artistic maturity and vocal technique. Grigolo sings with intelligence, adapting his instrument to the dramatic situation and managing the right impact very precisely. He has a full and firm voice that he knows to bend to fabulous pianissimi and carefully controlled half voices. This was best seen in the second act cavatina “Mais quelle soudaine clarté resplendit à cette fenetre,” which was sung with a nice blend of force and elegance.

Moreover, he is always theatrical, communicative and endowed with a magical magnetism. He does tend to be excessive with his swagger, but it comes off as sincere and allows him to perform every character in a very personal, recognizable and over the top way, which fits beautifully with the romantic Roméo written by Gounod.

Diana Damrau was splendid  as Juliette. The German soprano has a flexible and homogeneous voice, managed with taste and measure. The dramatic fourth act aria “Dieu! Quel Frisson court dans mes veines” was remarkable for dramatic intensity and full-bodied voice that she brought to it. Conversely, she displayed great vivacity and joy in the first act rondo-valse “Jeu veux vivre dan le reve,” bending her voice to adamantine purity and a wonderful legato.

Both Damrau and Grigolo were particularly fantastic in their love duets, especially “Ange adorable, ma main coupable”  and “O vertige! Est-ce un reve.” These passages were full of poignant intensity and emotional participation.

In addition to the two lead stars, audiences had the pleasure of hearing Frédéric Caton as Capuleti; Caton provided the patriarch with a clear and firm voice. Nicolas Testè displayed flexibility throughout his register as Frère Laurent.

Mattia Olivieri, as Mercutio,  did not leave his mark on the ballad of Queen Mab, but was truly effective in his death scene displaying tremendous vocal resonance and great scenic talent.

Ruzil Gatin was a bold Tybalt with a valuable and clear tenor voice. Marina Viotti sang Stéphano with a good high and medium register, while Sara Mingardo, as Gertrude, was always incisive. Edwin Fardini, Paolo Nevi, Jean-Vincent Blot and Paul Grant completed the cast.

The audience’s deluge of applause at the close of the evening was a demonstration of just how much they enjoyed this performance of the French masterwork. It was a truly wonderful display.


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