Romeo et Juliette, Chicago Lyric Opera, February 1999
New couple transforms 'Romeo et Juliette'
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune; 15 February 1999
Just because Elizabeth Futral and Giuseppe Sabbatini are the alternate
duo of principal singers in Lyric Opera's production of "Romeo et
Juliette" doesn't mean they must take a back seat to Angela Gheorghiu
and Roberto Alagna, who sang the star-crossed lovers in the first five
performances of the Gounod work. Indeed, in certain respects Futral and
Sabbatini, who joined the cast for the first time Saturday at the Civic
Opera House, proved superior to their highly publicized colleagues and
fit more smoothly into the vocal ensemble.
From the beginning one had no trouble suspending disbelief and accepting
these performers as teenage lovers from feuding families, so palpable
was the mutual attraction of his Romeo and her Juliette. Futral played
Capulet's darling daughter as a spirited '90s heroine-- empowered by
love, unafraid to throw off the shackles of paternal domination and
pursue her own destiny. Sabbatini's Romeo was also strongly
characterized, a young man transported by the unexpected force of
emotions he can scarcely grasp.
There was, moreover, abundant energy behind their singing and they
seemed more on the same musical wavelength with conductor John Nelson
than did the Alagnas.
Futral's soprano has darkened and become more plangent since her days
with the Lyric Opera Center. Pliant, vibrant and even in quality
throughout its range, hers is a natural instrument for the lyric-
coloratura repertoire. Her technique is more than a match for the
flashing coloratura of Juliette's waltz, which she delivers with all the
requisite charm and style; the ascending and descending scales aptly
convey the giddy excitement of a young girl eager to love and be loved.
In the restored potion aria, where more weight and power are required,
she also sings impressively, a young bride determined in the face of
death. Her aria drew the loudest ovation Saturday.
Sabbatini's medium-weight tenor is firm and true, bright of timbre and
forwardly produced. He can focus his voice with the intensity of a laser
but also, in Romeo's famous aria, "Ah, leve-toi, soleil," shape phrases
and shade the tone with great musicality; the aria made for a rousing
conclusion to the scene in which Romeo woos Juliette below her balcony.
If the French language trips less idiomatically off his tongue than
Futral's, Sabbatini sang with good diction and he threw himself into the
swordplay with as much athletic ardor as his predecessor.
The rest of the cast was unchanged, including William Burden's
bright-toned Tybalt, Brian Montgomery's robust Mercutio, Jeffrey Wells'
warmly paternal Capulet, Patricia Risley's elegantly sung Stephano and
Rene Pape's sympathetic Pere Laurent, singing a degree below his best
form after his Pogner in the previous night's "Die Meistersinger." The
quality of the orchestra's responses filled the listener with new
admiration for a score much undervalued by commentators, including this
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