Many small opera company’s outings are things of shreds and patches—not so Opera 51, whose Roméo and Juliette at 51 Walden Performance Center in Concord trod and sang in glad rags. Gounod’s “other” opera reprises tonight and tomorrow.
In the converted armory, a large volunteer orchestra began the overture somewhat tentatively with woozy intonation, yet Alan Yost’s broad and clear beat moved the notes forward through the next three hours without a train wreck. The probably too-large-contingent of 40 un-pitted players without a credible collective pianissimo unfortunately forced defensive amplification of the singers.
An Italianate colonnade provided a traditional background for a Capulet ballroom (with the addition of a flickering neon chandelier), a square in Verona (chandelier removed), and a newlyweds’ boudoir, employing a very large bed which, with pillows removed, served later as Juliet’s bier. A small altar with two kneelers and a Gothic window projection defined Fr. Laurence’s cell. Stage hands rolled out a well-rusticated castle façade to function as a one-step-up, curb-service balcony.
The more than adequate staging provided good working space for the beautifully costumed singers. One feels delight in noting that Roxanne Becker’s gowns and doublets commanded much acclaim. Highly detailed and well-differentiated, they resulted from committed stitchery on the parts of members of the company—artistic director Robin Farnsley on down.
Farnsely, whose guiding spirit clearly animates the proceedings, had longed to sing Juliette with this company, though Marguerite in Faust also figures in her dreams. No longer an ingénue (and how many Juliets are other than Olivia Hussey in the Zeffirelli movie?), Farnesly gave us a character who knew what she wanted and was not shy about pouncing on her Romeo. Her powerful and clear dramatic soubrette projected fine coloratura to the farthest rows. The Act IV mad scene in which she contemplated taking the secret potion summoned her most engaged moments, as her eyes radiated terror and mirrored her disordered thoughts. Her voice gave no quarter.
But to bury the lead, Joshua Collier’s Roméo stopped the show from his first utterance. We did not have to wait for the resplendent interpolated high C in “Ah, jour de deuil”—gleaming for 8 bars until the cows came home and the chorus came in — to recognize a great Italian tenor on the make; he even deployed a credible sob. His total investment in the character recalled the unstoppable Franco Corelli [hear the latter in this aria here]. We relished his conversational French and he even looks like a tenor!
Go hear the show tonight or tomorrow for Collier and the costumes.