Making beautiful music together
The emotional spotlight of 19th-century grand opera shines on literature’s most famous lovers starting Saturday, when Pittsburgh Opera presents “Romeo and Juliet.”
The five-act opera by Charles Gounod is an 1867 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play about the fatal consequences of Romeo’s and Juliet’s true love pitted against bitter family conflict — the Montagues and Capulets in 14th-century Verona, Italy.
“Like all good operas, it is a perfect connection between music and story,” says conductor Emmanuel Joel-Hornak. “I think what works well in this opera are beautiful melodies. We are very fortunate that there are four duets between tenor and soprano. This is unique in opera, and each is more intense and more beautiful musically, leading to the tomb scene” where the lovers die.
Pittsburgh Opera’s young lovers will be handsome Italian tenor Massimo Giordano and beautiful Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova, making their company and role debuts, respectively. Stage directors Jean-Philippe Clarac and Olivier Deloeuil also are making company debuts, with a production that moves the story from Italy to America and updates it to the 1970s. The three-hour opera will be presented with one intermission, between the third and fourth acts.
Pittsburgh Opera’s Romeo began his operatic career singing this role in Parma, Italy, and has returned to it often. Giordano is a 36-year-old tenor whose rising star has been seen on many of the world’s top opera stages, such as La Scala in Milan, Italy, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and the Vienna State Opera and Salzburg Festival in Austria.
He says he loves portraying Romeo because “from the moment he is first onstage, you understand that he has a very fresh youthfulness that he is not going to lose but that he is going to encounter real life. The problem, sometimes, when you meet real life is that it is not as beautiful as the dreams you had.”
Giordano notes that it isn’t clear whether Romeo ever has killed anyone before the storytelling begins, or even whether he has had sex before. “I think the point of the opera we are doing is that it doesn’t belong to our present time,” he says.
“When you are able to bring the audience onstage with you, and make them live what you are singing, then you have a very, very successful performance,” Giordano says.
Soprano Petrova is looking forward to performing Juliet for the first time. She was a real hit singing Zerbinetta in “Ariadne auf Naxos” by Richard Strauss for Pittsburgh Opera last season, and she relishes the different nature of her role in Gounod’s opera. She says she can sing Juliet with more variety of colors, as well as more sincerity as a character.
“Although she’s naive and young, and in some ways simple in the way she sees the world, she loves Romeo and that’s it for her. She does not question why she loves him, or think about the problems that may arise. The simplicity in beauty and trusting love each gives is amazing to experience through music,” the soprano says.
“Our lives now push us to a more complicated way of living,” she says. “We forget how beautiful it is to be sincere in the way we feel. People are afraid to go there in their lives, but they are not afraid of going there with Shakespeare.”
Pittsburgh Opera’s production was created by tandem stage directors Jean-Philippe Clarac and Olivier Deloeuil for the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C. Both are in their mid-30s, and they always work together.
Clarac says the Spoleto Festival asked them to create a staging of “Romeo and Juliet” “which speaks to American audiences.” The two directors say they considered the way life has changed between the 14th century and our time, and between Europe and America — and worked closely with the musical score.
“It is a very sad and violent story,” Deloeuil says. “Sometimes it’s quite strange because of the myth — everybody seems to look for Juliet to be with her Romeo. People really want that kind of love story. We have to deal with the audience’s entering the hall with this idea that is so romantic.”
Clarac also says that Gounod had many crises in his life because his family prevented him from becoming a priest. This consideration led them to emphasize the spiritual component of Juliet’s character and contributed to their decision to make the Capulets’ family business a funeral home.
He says, “Because she had been brought up in a mortuary (and is a deeply spiritual person), she is not so afraid to die.” Additional Information:
‘Romeo and Juliet’
Featuring: Massimo Giordano, Lyubov Petrova, Myrna Paris, Chester Patton, Craig Verm, Arthur Espiritu; Pittsburgh Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Emmanuel Joel-Hornak, conductor; Jean-Philippe Clarac and Olivier Deloeuil, stage directors
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Nov. 14, 8 p.m. Nov. 17 and 2 p.m. Nov. 19.
Where: Benedum Center, Downtown
Details: 412-456-666 or www.pittsburghopera.org