Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Kentucky Opera brings its season to a close this weekend with an operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” by French composer Charles Gounod.
In Shakespeare’s tragedy, the scions of two rival families fall in love accidentally, marry in secret, then conspire to find a way to be together, which ends in disaster and death. Gounoud’s opera “Roméo et Juliette” streamlines a bit to focus on the title characters, cutting or rearranging some of the background between the Montague and Capulet families . The result is an opera in five acts structured around duets between the star-crossed lovers (Ava Pine and Vale Rideout), including one final duet in the tomb before they die in each others’ arms.
Despite those liberties, Kentucky Opera General Manager David Roth says the libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré) also features direct use of Shakespeare’s original language.
“Even using the chorus and the prologue to foreshadow what is to come,” says Roth.
In case you’ve forgotten your Shakespeare, that’s:
“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
That language grounds the opera in the original text, but it can present dramaturgical challenges in an operatic adaptation, says director Danny Pellzig, who makes his Kentucky Opera debut with this production.
“The language of Shakespeare is so extraordinary and so characterful,” says Pellzig. “One of the things I’m trying to do in collaboration with this fantastic group of singers is try to bring a real complexity to these characters that Shakespeare had on the page, and find it in the music and in the French text to really drive the story forward.”
The production is conducted by Emmanuel Plasson, who directed Jules Massenet’s “Cinderella” for the company last season. Though he has conducted Gounod’s masterpiece “Faust” several times, this is his first – and long-anticipated – outing with “Roméo et Juliette.”
“Gounod was a very religious man, but also very romantic at heart. It was always those two forces in him that were always competing, in a way,” says Plasson. “That’s why it presents a quality in this music that is very special, because it’s never overly romantic. There’s always a bit of classicism to it in the lines and the melodies, but you feel this romantic pulse.”
The production runs Friday evening and Sunday afternoon at the Brown Theatre. A talkback with the cast and creative staff is scheduled for after the Sunday performance.