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Charles Gounod: Roméo et Juliette
Rolando Villazón (Roméo), Nino Machaidze (Juliette), Mikhail Petrenko (Frère Laurent), Russell Braun (Mercutio), Cora Burggraaf (Stéphano), Falk Struckmann (Le comte Capulet), Juan Francisco Gatell (Tybalt), Susanne Resmark (Gertrude), Christian Van Horn (Le Duc de Vérone), Mathias Hausmann (Le comte Pâris), Jean-Luc Ballestra (Grégorio), Robert Murray (Benvolio), Jörn H. Andresen (Chorus Master), Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Conductor), Bartlett Sher (Stage Director), Michael Yeargan (Stage Designer), Catherine Zuber (Costume Designer), Jennifer Tipton (Lighting Designer), Chase Brock (Choreographer), B.H. Barry (Fight Scenes), Brian Large (Director)
Live Recording, Salzburg, Grosses Festspielhaus (27 & 30 July and 2 August 2008) – Produced for DVD by Harald Gericke – 162’ + 16’ (bonus)
Deutsche Grammophon ref. #: B0012492-09 – Booklet in English. Subtitles available in French (original language), English, German, Spanish and Chinese

Moving up and down a few New York City blocks from one venerable institution to another can be a daunting task, but for Bartlett Sher it’s a mere walk in the park. Indeed, the Bartlett (Bart for short) inertia has begun. Back in 2005 Mr. Sher was nominated for the Tony Award© for Best Director in the successful Broadway show, The Light in the Piazza. The following year he strolled uptown to Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera to lead a new production of Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia that garnered enthusiastic support. Then in 2008 Bart Sher won the Tony Award© for Best Director in the Broadway revival of South Pacific.

Between Broadway and the world of opera Bart Sher is in great demand. Firmly planted in Mozart’s hometown he assumes staging responsibilities for Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, a first for the Salzburg Festival. And a success it is. What is his secret? When recently asked the question on PBS’ show Charlie Rose, it lies in finding a certain “rhythm”, a harmonious correlation of parts. Sher’s staging is one fluid continuum.

Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette squarely centers around the two title characters for great reason. Rolando Villazón pours his heart and soul into this production without missing a beat. The voice is silky during delicate moments, but in a split second it can turn into vituperative rage. His clear diction connects with his acting in unusual proportions, unlike any other.

Paired with Mr. Villazón is a young twenty-five year old Georgian Nino Machaidze who has the auspicious occasion of stepping in for the expecting Anna Netrebko armed with vocal heft that at times is a bit harsh and overbearing. Despite lacking a certain finesse she, nonetheless, is highly motivated and will grow into this role.

Nézet-Séguin’s superb orchestration is on the mark. As an example, on one extreme he allows intimate moments to blossom, while on the other, he supports Chase Brock’s and B.H. Barry’s riveting choreography and fight scene in Act III Scene II with blistering tension.
Salzburg’s Felsenreitschule is an already natural backdrop for Roméo et Juliette with its grand arched colonnades that support Michael Yeargan’s minimal and meaningful set design while Jennifer Tipton’s discerning eye for lighting is well apportioned to illuminate the back wall silhouetting the choir and matching the characters’ conveyed moods on stage. Costuming created by Catherine Zuber puts this production somewhere in the 18th century instituting muted colors to give it a certain classical richness, and without blatant reply she discriminates between the Capulets and the Montagues in clever fashion.

The balance of singers are type casted well. Russel Braun’s Mercutio lends a buttery smoothness, while Roméo’s page, Stéphano, sung by Cora Burggraaf, is one of shining intensity and pathos. Just as Susanne Resmark makes a perfect nurse for Juliet, so, too, does Mikhail Petrenko as Frère Laurent with his brooding bass voice.

Audibly speaking, this recording is well mastered. The tonality is rich and deep but never offensive.

As a bonus offer, Deutsche Grammophon has included four additional pieces. The first two are plot summaries narrated by Mr. Villazón in a succinct format. Alas, this should have been put at the beginning of the DVD. It is well done. Additionally, there is an interesting snippet entitled, “Salzburg Impressions – Behind the Scenes of Roméo et Juliette that is then followed by an informative historical perspective, “Love and Death in Verona”.

Deutsche Grammophon, in collaboration with ORF and Unitel Classica, makes this a first rate recording in every way. If you are an admirer of French repertoire, this is one not to miss.

Christie Grimstad




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