The first performance of Gounod’s, at the Théâtre-Lyrique Impérial du Châtelet in Paris in 1867, was 154 years ago, almost to the day of four upcoming performances at Boston University. It is not often heard. Kobbé recounts, in the first American edition of his “Definitive” Opera Book, that the opera has always been more popular in France than anywhere else. In London, when Juliette was sung by Adelina Patti, who was “in residence” there, it was quite popular. In American history, continues Kobbé, “save for performances in New Orleans” (a French-speaking part of our country, after all), it was not until the Grau regime at the Metropolitan Opera that Roméo et Juliette began to find a place in our repertory. Even the renowned Sarah Caldwell, who while the head of the Opera Company of Boston put on many out-of-the ordinary operas, did not (as far as can be determined within the constrains of getting up this article) stage Gounod’s less well known opera.
Stepping up to the plate is the Boston University School of Music, in a production on Thursday, April 21, through April 24 (Easter Sunday), at the Boston University Theatre on Huntington Avenue. See BMInt’s “Upcoming Events” for more details. Roméo et Juliette, based on The Tragedy of Roméo and Juliet by Shakespeare, is in five acts, with a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. This opera is notable for the series of four duets for the main characters and the waltz song, “Je veux vivre” for the soprano. William Lumpkin is conductor and Sharon Daniels stage director for this upcoming performance. Production, costumes, and lighting are by BU students. Allison Voth is providing English subtitles.
Singers are all enrolled in BU’s Opera Institute. The casts alternate. On the Thursday and Saturday performances, Roméo will be tenor John Irvin, finishing his first year at the Opera Institute as a student of Sharon Daniels. His roles at BU include Nick in Paulus’ The Postman Always Rings Twice and Victor in Bowles’s Yerma. Irvin is a 2011 New England Regional Finalist for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and earned second place in the sixth annual Peter Elvins Vocal Competition. This summer, he will participate in the Santa Fe Opera Apprenticeship Program, and in the fall, as a Boston Lyric Opera Emerging Artist, he will perform the role of Malcolm in BLO’s fall production of Verdi’s Macbeth.
The Juliette at these performances is soprano Chelsea Basler, in her second year as a member of the Boston University Opera Institute, where she studies with Jerrold Pope. She performed Cora in The Postman Always Rings Twice and the title role in Yerma. Past credits at Boston University include Susannah in Susannah, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, Antigone in Antigone, ‘Girl’ in Trouble in Tahiti, and Suzanne Michaud in Thérèse Raquin. Basler was heard this past summer at the Ohio Light Opera Company singing Sylva in Gypsy Princess and Marshina in Kismet.
At the Friday and Sunday performances, Roméo is Clay Hilley, in his second year in the Opera Institute, where Penelope Bitzas is his teacher. He was most recently Nick in The Postman Always Rings Twice, and last year at the Opera Institute, as both Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi and Sam Polk in Susannah. Hilley recently returned from Indianapolis Opera, where he appeared as Don José in La tragédie de Carmen. This summer he will cover the role of Molqi in John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
Juliette willl be soprano Ruth Hartt, currently completing her master’s degree in vocal performance at Boston University, where she also studies with Penelope Bitzas. In previous BU opera productions Hartt has appeared as Mimi in La Boheme, the title role in Manon, Micaela in Carmen, and Blanche in Dialogues of the Carmelites). As an oratorio soloist, Ruth has sung with the Boston Boys’ Chorus, the Concord Chorus, The Bostonians, and the Masterworks Chorale. This past March, Hartt sang Poulenc’s Fiancailles pour rire, Libby Larsen’s Try Me Good King, Strauss’ Madchenblumen, and Handel Arcadian duets at her graduate recital.