960x410_abc7548076019252a17d5050a607daa7The MET HD presentation of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette has been given a terrific looking production by Bartlet Sher. The sets by Michael Yergan and the 18th century costumes by Catherine Zuber create an elegant and enlightened Verona.

Yergan’s set transforms from ballroom to balcony to Friar Laurent’s cell to nuptial chamber to tomb with minimal technical fuss. In a stunningly theatrical moment a huge billowing white cloth flies down to the stage cleansing the bloodbath of Verona’s public square and transporting the action to the nuptial chamber of the ill-starred lovers.

The Romeo and Juliette in this production are both very fine singers. As a welcome bonus, both Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo are as good looking a pair as this reviewer has ever seen. Shakespeare indicates in the words of Juliette’s Nurse that she is fourteen. Romeo is not much ahead of her in years. Now try casting that in Opera.

Of course, for an opera singer as much as for any performing artist looks are fleeting. The voice is a different matter, with most sopranos and tenors entering their prime in their mid 40’s. And here, both Ms. Damrau and Mr. Grigolo are right there, at the top of their games. She has the suppleness of voice to sing her Act I waltz with grace and agility, and the capacity to dispatch the most dramatic passages with the same authority as she sings the lyrical moments in the role.

Vittorio Grigolo is a fine, youthful and elegant Romeo, as good as some of the great Romeos of the past, with the distinct advantage of possessing a lyric tenor voice never bothered by the high passages in the music. His delivery of Ah, leve toi soleil! is marvelous and his handling  of the French text is just about flawless. And then, he looks like an Italian youth of the time.

The remainder of the cast is strong. Elliot Madore is a mercurial Mercutio and sings the Queen Mab aria very well indeed. The Friar Laurent is nicely sung by Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko and Virginie Verrez is the troublemaking  but charming Stephano.

The MET orchestra and orchestra excels under the baton of Gianandrea Noseda. Here’s hoping that the MET continues to deliver productions and casts on this level. Next up on HD, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, also in a production by the factotum Bartlet Sher, a director who manages to create fresh and inventive takes on old warhorses without the excesses of European Regietheater.

Rafael de Acha