Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
Do That To Me One More Time
November 09, 2011
When Ian Judge’s production of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette first appeared at Los Angeles Opera in the winter of 2005, I saw it five times. It was a very special occasion and one of the high-water marks in the company’s history to date. There were several reasons, but primary among those was the starring duo of Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon, who were just reaching a pinnacle in their period of recurrent collaborations on the operatic stage. Times are different now, of course, and LAO’s revival of this particular production might seem to tempt fate by asking for the miraculous to happen twice. And incredibly, the show comes closer than you might expect to that level of success by again relying on two stars in the title roles who appear to be on the verge of very big careers – soprano Nino Machaidze and tenor Vittorio Grigolo. I’m not going to compare either of them to their predecessors because I think it’s a pointless exercise. What I will say is that they deliver two very exciting performances that alongside Judge’s tight, visually interesting production ensure that no one in the audience will be going home disappointed.
Machaidze is well known in Los Angles having performed in bel canto roles here on twoprior occasions. Juliette is a different, and much more lyrical assignment for her, although it is also her breakout role, having stepped into it at the Salzburg festival in 2008. (Ironically for a pregnant Netrebko opposite Villazon.) She manages fine detail with ease and has adequate power. There’s a darker hue to her voice overall, and despite a few sharp moments, she was very convincing and pleasing to listen to. Then there is her Romeo, Vittorio Grigolo. Grigolo is only making his third U.S. appearance in Los Angeles this month and he’s had a massive wave of excitement preceding him based on numerous European performances and his track record as a cross-over recording star. He’s got formidable chops, and his Romeo was strong, athletic, and full of character. His voice has that Italianate fragility common in some of the greatest tenors of the last half century, and it’s a sound that immediately sends your mind racing to all of the other roles you would be eager to hear him perform. He’s a young man and his acting can still tend toward too overstated, but he’s simply gorgeous. And I mean more than “opera hot.” He can and does spend nearly all of the Act IV love duet shirtless and has apparently been hitting the gym like some Twilight extra wannabe. (You can get a sample of what I'm talking about at 1:27 above)
Judge gives Grigolo quite a bit of physical stuff to do on his three-story erector-set inspired stage design. He climbs ladders, and barrels through gates. The costumes are mid-19th century, but Judge is able to insert just the right amount of glamor to make the whole thing pop. It may not necessarily be lush, but it is undoubtedly sexy and romantic looking. Best of all, the scene changes are all managed quickly with no down curtain time which keeps the pacing fleet. There are a number of excellent performers in the supporting cast. Ronnita Nicole Miller sings the part of Juliette's nurse, and Renée Rapier makes the most of Stephano's aria in Act III. LA Opera general director Placido Domingo is in the pit for these performances, and he gave his usual generous and measured approach in full support of the vocal artists. On the down side that means that things can get a bit muddy and featureless along the way. But it's not enough to overwhelm the many positives of the performance, and an opportunity to see these two stars working together on a local stage should not be passed by. The show runs through November 26.
Yes, Vittorio Grigolo's Romeo is wonderful in every way, but i think, Brian, you are a little too generous in your praise for the rest of this production. Nino Machaidze is fine as Juliet but nothing really special, and the rest of the cast is unable to come anywhere near matching Grigolo's outstanding performance. The 19th century costumes, for me personally, are a bit of a distraction. A gun in Romeo's hands is a cheap trick that does not convince. The orchestra sounds a little shaky in several passages. But Grigolo is definitely a delight.
I see your point MarK. I do agree that Grigolo had the best showing. I think my stance was also influenced by my desire to really see this apart from my positive associations with the show's last outing.
Oh there is no ambiguity. He's a an all right. What's most interesting is that this same bedroom scene last time around started off with Netrebko's bare back exposed to the audience and Villazon was the shy one. This time around the curtain comes up to a change of positions and Grigolo's muscular back on display. It is as it always is - if you've got it, flaunt it.