Saturday I attended a fascinating theatrical experiment in Berkeley at the Julia Morgan Center for the Arts. Berkeley Opera has attempted a complete integration of William Shakespeare's play and Charles Gounod's opera into a single Romeo and Juliet drama. How does one think of these things?
No attempt was made to preserve the meaning of Gounod's libretto. It was like watching R&J, the musical. Shakespeare's familiar play would start and then the characters would burst into song. An effort was made, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, to fit the words of Shakespeare into the music of Gounod. The credits say "Lyrics by Amanda Moody." I think that's not the same as saying you are translating Gounod's opera into English. Gounod is doing an opera and wants arias and duets that Shakespeare knows nothing about. Thus the requirement for a lyricist.
During the overture the characters came out one by one and posed in the spotlight while their names appeared on the supertitles. It is a large cast. In general throughout the play/opera they kept the Montagues on the left side of the stage and the Capulets on the right. Shakespeare's moral at the end was omitted.
So how did this work? It was fun. The biggest problem was that no attempt was made to preserve the phrasing of the music created by the original text. I didn't feel Gounod in this result. Does a choppy, fragmented English style still feel like a high Romantic French opera? Or for that matter, does it feel like Shakespeare? For me it didn't. If you find Gounod corny, this might just be the thing for you. I'm fine with jettisoning the meaning, but I would like the musical style to stay.
Can the cod pieces. Our hero was strangely emasculated by the loss of his toward the end. Juliet also had a wardrobe malfunction in the death scene. There's no business like show business.
The orchestra was placed behind the set with monitors placed in the audience to stand in for Jonathan Khuner, the able conductor. Elena Krell played/sang Juliet. She is a good singer and actress with a somewhat fluttery vibrato. Jimmy Kansau will never sing at the Metropolitan, but he did project a vigorous romantic hero and did an excellent job of crooning Gounod. They were sexy together, and isn't that the main thing?
No one believed Richard Mix--an excellent singer--with his look of an aging wild man was the Prince of Verona.