Romeo et Juliette, Chorégies d'Orange, 27 July 2002

Romeo et Juliette (Broadcast Performance)
Frank Cadenhead, Seen and Heard, July 2002

French television viewers who tuned in Tuesday night to France 2 to watch a
live performance of Romeo et Juliette from the summer festival in the lovely
Southern French town of Orange found themselves watching a different drama
played out on stage alongside the Shakespearean story. Instead of the
Tuesday night performance, viewers were shown a tape of the opening night
performance on Saturday night. There, while running offstage after Act III,
Scene One, superstar tenor Roberto Alagna can be seen to badly sprain his
ankle and had to finish the performance in obvious pain and nearly immobile.
Sharing the starring roles with his wife, Angela Gheorghiu, this most famous
operatic couple were compelled to improvise the staging of the final two
acts and, in spite of all, delivered a passionate and triumphant

The Festival Chorègies d'Orange, presenting the second and final opera of
the summer, in the impressive, acoustically excellent 8,600 seat
amphitheater from the Roman era, had selected this opera to be broadcast on
national television because of the star power of its acclaimed, and
reputedly difficult and demanding, couple. But there was no sign of
dilettante behavior this night and the two stars, in top form, gave a
performance that will remain long in the memory (and likely on video and
DVD). Gheorghiu was a commanding, strongly sung Juliette and her voice
soared along with the delicious melodies of Gounod. Her always on-target
singing and strong control of the vocal line, while missing some of the
fragility of the teenage heroine, was a significant lyric achievement.

But the real laurels go to the suffering Romeo who sang with such
unrestrained passion and accuracy that it could have been the performance of
a lifetime. His affinity with the French language - his birth language - and
his effortless, golden tones reminded this listener of other legendary
interpreters of this repertory like Alfredo Krause. Sensing that this was an
'occasion' he poured out his feelings and sang with a superb vocal artistry
that sometimes eludes him on stage. The audience clearly appreciated his
artistic commitment and urgently felt performance and cheered lustily when
he was carried on to take his bows at the end.

This particular performance, likely chosen by the TV people for the
real-life human drama involved, will add to the list of "show must go on"
legends in opera and might mitigate some of the bruised feelings of some
opera lovers who have suffered disappointing cancellations by these two. It
is also a tribute to the theatrical skills of the lovebirds, both of who
gave compelling performances despite having to toss out the weeks of careful
rehearsals and just make do on stage. It is also a measure of the magic that
can be created when a well-known masterpiece gets that added rush of
adrenaline to give it new meaning and immediacy.

It should not be forgotten that there were others on stage that night.
Acclaimed baritone Réne Pape was the ultimate in luxury casting as Frëre
Laurent and the excellent Alain Vernhes was a sumptuous Capulet. The
secondary roles, including the fine Anna Steiger as Gertrude, were uniformly
well sung. Michel Plasson conducted his Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse
and the chorus of the Opera of Nice with excellent style and sensitivity to
the musical treasures in the score. The colorful costumes and the
production, by Nicholas JoÎl, were equal to the other world class
productions from Orange and, in sum, it was theater, and opera, at its best.


This page was last updated on: August 26, 2002