Autonomous City of Buenos Aires. Romeo is the son of River´s hooligan chief ("barrabrava"); Juliet, the daughter of Boca´s counterpart. During a masked milonga at La Boca Romeo and friends peep around with mischievous intent; Romeo and Juliet look at each other for the first time and fall instantaneously in love. Then follow the incidents narrated four centuries ago by a certain Elizabethan playwright and adapted by two 1860s Frenchmen to be clothed with music in that strange contraption, an opera. Well, why not? Is it different from what Mercedes Marmorek did in her staging for Buenos Aires Lírica at the Avenida of Gounod´s "Roméo et Juliette"? In both cases the plot was transported from its time and place to another city and period. The rationale? To bring it closer to our comprehension, for we are too ignorant to accept it in the original conception. Well then, go the whole hog and instead of the Duke of Verona make the Chief of Government sentence Romeo to exile in Berazategui (after all, he is from River, that´s enough to merit chastisement).
As I read the hand programme, I found that the telling of the plot was illustrated by a splendid photograph of Verona and that the action takes place there during the Middle Ages (I rather feel that the proper time is the Renaissance), so there´s something hypocritical about a programme that gives no inkling of the complete transformation of sense and essence that we were about to see. Days later I read an interview with the producer entitled (and I agree) "The Verona lovers, but from the kitsch and vulgar", and it turns out that these are the very words Mercedes Marmorek uses to describe her approach: "an aesthetic vision taken from the Nineteenth-century´s vulgar and kitschy taste". She also says that she was inspired by the St Valentine postcards of that time and that she wanted to eschew realism in the acting, trying to imagine a theatrical play in the Paris of 1890 (yes, we see the Eiffel Tower).
Well, I have no doubt that she accomplished what she wanted. I am equally sure that I heard Gounod´s music and the libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré on the Shakespeare 1595 play, based on Brooke´s 1562 poem. Apart from that, in a few passages I could identify with the characters but mostly I couldn´t: the distortion was too great. And if you really feel that Gounod is so kitschy, why put it on? For this staging disparaged composer and librettists and was an extravaganza rather than the telling of a sentimental and sincere Romantic opera full of beautiful melodies.
I don´t have the space to itemize every aspect that infuriated me, so a few examples will have to suffice. 1) After the Prelude, the stage reveals the sign "L´amour" in lights, hearts transperced by arrows dominate the design, plus a sculptured Cupid: and on this ambience we hear the austere choir that describes the tragic story of two families dominated by hate. 2) Then, the joy of the Capulets Ball includes two ridiculous clowns out of a vaudeville show and four can-can dancers.
3) In the Second Act, as Roméo sings his lovely aria praising the rising sun, what looks a bizarre yellow moon "à la Méliès" brusquely drops from above. 4) Juliet is dressed throughout like a ballerina, from ball to death by way of marriage and night of love; and Romeo as a strange sort of soldier also keeps on the same clothes (the duet after their only night together is quite sexless).
5) Starting the Second Tableau of the Third Act, Romeo´s page Stéphano, a typical trouser role, is converted into a girl singing like a girl. 6) The following scene, with all the sword fighting, is completely ridiculous in a Belle Époque ambience. 7) An absurd little ballet of Cupids accompanies the Prelude to the Fifth Act, "Juliette´s Dream", just before the crypt scene. Enough, you get the idea.
In other words, the concept is all wrong. But to be fair, some things are pleasant to see. The stage design by Nicolás Boni has some handsome frameworks; the costumes by Lucía Marmorek are agreeable though often against the dramatic situation; the lighting (Alejandro Le Roux) has some good ideas. The choreography by Ignacio González Cano was embarrassing.
But there were two reasons to go to this "Roméo et Juliette": Oriana Favaro and Santiago Ballerini. The soprano is fresh, beautiful and sings well (a bit weak in the lows). Ballerini has that rare thing among our tenors, a firm, expansive high range, though he hardly has the "physique du rôle".
Of the others I liked Walter Schwarz (Brother Laurent), Vanesa Mautner (Gertrude, the wet-nurse) and Laura Polverini, a disinvolt Stéphano (though she has to interact with a grotesque invention, a man in armor). Christian Peregrino (Duke of Verona) has an imposing presence but his singing is very woolly. Ernesto Bauer was a miscast Capulet (hindered –not his fault- by a silly hair-do) and Sebastián Angulegui, replacing Ricardo Crampton, was a harsh Mercutio.
Fortunately both Orchestra (under Javier Logioia Orbe) and Choir (Juan Casasbellas) did quite well.
The cuts were the standard ones (ballet and epìthalium in the Fourth Act, and after the death of the lovers the reconciliation of Capulets and Montagus). The French was poor in almost all the singers.
For Buenos Aires Herald