Maryland Lyric Opera opens its second season with a Gounod classic, “Romeo et Juliette.”
If there was such a thing as a sheriff of the local opera scene, Maryland Lyric Opera would be the top candidate for the position. Just in its second season, the relatively new company is making some impressive strides in presenting quality performances, such as opening season two with Charles Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette.” If the opening night performance was any indication, the subsequent works in the series are sure to be excellent nights at the opera as well. Executive Director Brad Clark announced that the performance was dedicated to his late father, A. James Clark, for whom the University of Maryland’s school of engineering is named.
The intimacy of the Kay Theatre provided a wonderful, resonant space for the voices. On occasion, the brass and percussion of the orchestra were both quite pronounced, but all in all, the ensemble with strings aptly accompanied the production under the direction of Glenn Quader.
In the role of Juliette, soprano Merideth Marano sang with a radiance that floated with ease into the performance space. The evening’s Romeo, Chaz’men Williams-Ali, rendered a tenor voice of consistent clarity and a variety of dynamic contrast. At times his voice resounded with a regal, clarion-like quality and at other moments there was a soft, silken legato to his singing that mirrored the endearment that Romeo expressed for his Juliette. Ali’s relaxed demeanor onstage combined with the sort of unpretentious girl next door sort of beauty from Marano, created a wonderful energy to the classic that spoke to timeless love then and now. Some of the most beautiful moments of music of the evening came during the duet passages between Marano and Williams. The famous aria “Je veux vivre” better known as “Julliette’s Waltz” was the perfect showpiece for Marano’s agile soprano.
The legendary feud between the Montagues and the Capulets was further brought to life by the members of the exceptional supporting cast. As Juliette’s confidant Gertrude, mezzo-soprano Anamer Castrello was at home on the stage, interacting with Juliette convincingly not only through the nuances of her voice, but also in her movement and gesture. Being that the work was semi-staged, with the exception of contrast in lighting, it was wonderful to experience the movement of the character without the distraction of scenery. One of the beautiful uses of the space was the appearance of Juliette in the upper side balcony. During the bedroom garden scene, it was as if Juliette was radiating in the moonlight, perfectly illustrated with the use of a follow spotlight on Juliette, as Romeo stood on the stage declaring his love.
In the small, but pivotal role of Grégorió, Phillip Bullock commanded the stage in both voice and dramatic delivery as he stirred things up between the Montague men. The well-blended voices of the opera chorus gave glorious punctuation to the drama of the story. As Frère Laurent (Friar Laurence) baritone Damian Savarino sang with a warm tone that brought both a reverent, yet ominous presence to the ill-fated nuptials of the star-crossed lovers.
After earning degrees in music from Virginia State University and Shenandoah University, Patrick D. McCoy has contributed arts pieces to CBS Washington and The Afro-American Newspaper, among others. He also writes the magazine’s monthly performing arts column “Perfect Pitch.” McCoy may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy