[Met Performance] CID:212090
Roméo et Juliette {194} Metropolitan Opera House: 09/27/1967.

(Review)


Metropolitan Opera House
September 27, 1967


ROMÉO ET JULIETTE {194}

Roméo...................Franco Corelli
Juliette................Mirella Freni
Frère Laurent...........John Macurdy
Stéphano................Marcia Baldwin
Mercutio................John Reardon
Benvolio................Robert Schmorr
Gertrude................Shirley Love
Capulet.................Raymond Michalski
Tybalt..................Charles Anthony
Pâris...................Gene Boucher
Grégorio................Lorenzo Alvary
Duke of Verona..........Norman Scott

Conductor...............Francesco Molinari-Pradelli

Review of Irving Kolodin in the October 7, 1967 issue of the Saturday Review

"Romeo"

THE METROPOLITAN revival of "Romeo" commands respect for its effort to make a valid theatrical spectacle of the values inherent in the timeless story. It fills out the action with ballet (pretty, if in other respects mostly a tune-passer, by Milko Sparemblek), swordplay (supervised by Oscar Kolombatovich), and spectacle. The latter is provided in generous measure by Rolf Gerard's spacious settings; the action within it devised by Paul-Emile Deiber in his first effort for
this stage; and the lighting plotted by Jean Rosenthal, also a newcomer to the Metropolitan. They are all parts of an entity which should give the fragrant, Frenchified restatement of an inspired Englishman's version of an Italian romantic epic a new claim to the attention of the Metropolitan's public.

But what of the musical values? These have been subjected to a generalized, if not Italianized, treatment which dulls the nuances and grays the pastel colors of Gounod's score. Franco Corelli as Romeo and Mirella Freni as Juliette are both earnest in their pursuit of vocal virtue. But what is wanted here is not so much earnest singing as what might be called Charles singing. This is, after all, a vista of Romeo at Juliette from the special viewpoint of Charles Gounod. It is, as every card-player knows, a fault to lead from weakness; it is much more considerably so when the weakness in the operatic hand is that of its leader, in this case Francesco Molinari-Pradelli.

A conductor with the touch, the feel, the tactile sense of the score at his fingertips could have done much to adjust the familiar abilities of Corelli and Freni to the requirements of the unfamiliar score. A striking Romeo in bearing and deportment, Corelli has obviously expended a manful effort toward singing with more shading and restraint than was previously his inclination. An appealingly youthful Juliette in appearance, Freni's voice is, if anything; too strong for the needs of the role, or its best interests; the waltz in Act I "comes off" in the show-stopping sense, but it lacks finesse and insinuation, as well as the lightness imagined by its creator (the trills were just ignored). The general virtues of Molinari-Pradelli - a serious, experienced, and responsible director - were insufficiently supported by the special perceptions this project requires to make it good as Gounod. This is not to say that only a French conductor would have provided them; but it is to say that only a conductor with a long indoctrination in the sources of the score could have provided what was lacking.

This applies not only to the music of the principals - whose minds seemed to be on other things than each other, or the proposition that French opera is an art of finesse, not of abundance - but to the shaping of the elements that tie their solos together. Among them are the fugal writing for the strings before the main action begins; the "Queen Mab" song of Mercutio; the typically French ensemble near the end of Act I (in this three-act version); the chanson of Stephano (in Act II); and the exquisitely underscored "Ah! ne fuis pas encore" of the Garden Scene, which was hardly the combination of "allegretto" and "un poco agitato" the score describes. When Molinari-Pradelli's inclinations and Gounod's met on common ground - as in the ensemble of the duel scene and the choral writing that follows - the outcome was forceful and well proportioned. But it also happens that this is a scene which, in the words of one authority, "leans somewhat toward the manner of Meyerbeer."

The incidental oddity of the undertaking was that its real stylistic purpose and responsibility were conveyed by the subsidiary rather than the principal performers, not only in their response to the shaping hand of Deiber, but in their delivery of the music. One could not ask for a more virtuous Friar Laurence than John Macurdy, a suaver-sounding Capulet than Raymond Michalski, or a better-characterized Gregorio than Lorenzo Alvary. In these performers and such others as Charles Anthony as Tybalt, Norman Scott as The Duke of Verona, and, to a lesser degree, John Reardon as Mercutio, lies the long-term hope for "Romeo et Juliette" in the Metropolitan repertory. Some Bing productions have suffered from inability to maintain the strength of their initial impression; this is one in which improvement is not merely desirable, but altogether possible.



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