The “star-crossed lovers” of Shakespeare’s most romantic tragedy were sung last weekend by two of Indianapolis Opera’s shining points of light. Tenor Gran Wilson and soprano Laura Pedersen, who captivated IO audiences last season in Massenet’s Werther and Verdi’s La Traviata, respectively, joined last Friday to launch IO’s 28th season with its first production of Charles Gounod’s three-act (originally five) Romeo et Juliette (1867). Once again, Clowes Hall was filled to near its 2,000-plus-seat capacity — typically Indy’s largest-attended regular event covered by any classical-music-beat reviewer.
Indianapolis Opera opened its season with ‘Romeo et Juliette’
Both Wilson and Pedersen’s voices dominated the production, especially given the opera’s elimination of the other principals’ character development so evident in the Shakespeare play. Both projected vibrant deliveries, sometimes becoming a bit treacly, but always filled with romantic ardor — and good French diction. It is love at first sight for Romeo as he and his Montague friends/kinfolk encounter Juliet at her rival-family Capulets’ masked ball. Following an introductory exchange, Juliet falls for Romeo with equal speed. Their ensuing madrigal/duet — “Ange adorable!” — is the first of many pairings our two singers nicely realize. Act 3’s opening scene, depicting our ill-fated lovers’ only night together, has them frolicking freely on their bed — singing all the while, a gauze bed-curtain concealing nothing. Of course, they were married at this point — by Friar Laurence in the previous act — so that sort of made it OK, even if they are being watched by thousands. It must be noted that neither Wilson’s nor Pedersen’s vocal delivery was impaired by their being in a horizontal clinch. While the roles of Mercutio (baritone Don Davis), Tybalt (tenor Theodore Chletsos), Gertrude (mezzo Kara Schmid) and Count Pâris (baritone Daniel Hoy) were competently sung, soprano Leslie Mutchler proved to be a standout as Romeo’s page-boy, Stephano. In “his” Act 2, Scene 2 song discussing a white-dove prisoner in a nest of vultures (“Que fias-tu, blanche tourterelle?”), Mutchler’s vocal delivery was both rich and beautifully centered — belying her boyish costume and appearance. Michael Ehrman’s staging also stood out, with smoothly flowing ensemble scenes backed by Eric Fielding’s quite attractive period sets — complete with Romanesque/Italian arches and numerous candelabras sporting real candles. IO artistic director and conductor James Caraher led the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra in a seamless display of Gounod’s most lyric writing — an affable score which effectively aided and abetted the stage action without calling attention to itself.