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In Review > North America

Roméo et JulietteIdomeneo 

VIENNA, VA
Wolf Trap Opera
7/15/18; 6/24/18

In Review Wolf Trap Romeo et Juliette hdl 1018
McKissick, Reed and Leonard in Wolf Trap's Roméo
© Scott Suchman/Wolf Trap

IN 2015, Wolf Trap Opera reconfigured its cozy-rustic venue in order to tackle The Ghosts of Versailles, which, even in its chamber version, required an orchestra too large for the pit. Placing the instrumentalists upstage behind a scrim and bringing the singers closer to the audience transformed the Barns at Wolf Trap so successfully that the company was bound to try it again. The approach suited a new production of Roméo et Juliette for the 2018 season. Simple scenic design by Timothy Mackabee—light-colored brick walls framing a metal scaffold—allowed for an easy flow of scenes. On July 15, Eric Melear conducted a well-paced, often eloquently sculpted account of Gounod’s score (trimmed of the ballet and a few other passages). Even with a forty-four-member, mostly plush-sounding orchestra onstage, the acoustics favored the voices, but too much of the singing stayed in a forte-to-fortissimo groove anyway, as if driven by fear of being overpowered. 

The blaring was particularly damaging to Alexander McKissick’s otherwise commendable Roméo. Decked out in white T-shirt and jeans (Amanda Seymour’s costumes were more colorful or substantive for the rest of the cast), the tenor offered a credible portrayal that underlined the love-struck character’s most passionate moments with sturdy, glint-flecked top notes. When McKissick reined in his voice and applied gentle dynamic shading, the results were endearing, but those efforts were rare. As Juliette, Madison Leonard also could have used more vocal subtlety, but her gleaming soprano and communicative styling proved rewarding, as did her unaffected acting. As Stéphano, Annie Rosen revealed a bright mezzo and sang her aria with flair. Richard Trey Smagur was the vibrant-voiced Tybalt. Baritone Thomas Glass put an animated spin on Mercutio’s every phrase. In the role of Paris, Patrick Guetti impressively employed his dark, plush bass. Anthony Reed did the same as Frère Laurent, while also offering a great deal of tonal nuance. Taylor Raven’s plush tone served her well as Gertrude. Joshua Conyers enriched the role of Capulet with a refined baritone. The chorus, made up of Wolf Trap Studio Artists, produced a rich, cohesive sound.

Stage director Louisa Muller kept the drama taut and made a more or less persuasive case for updating the action. The contemporary touches led to some telling stage pictures, particularly the sea of cell phone cameras being wielded by guests at Juliet’s very pink-tinted party. (Roméo sported a bunny rabbit mask in that scene.) The Queen Mab aria became an homage to recreational drugs. Instead of swords, the fight scene included fisticuffs and knives. Roméo downed prescription pills and booze to commit suicide in a finale that (surprisingly) featured a Gothic catafalque for Juliette that would have been at home in any traditional staging.

In Review Wolf Trap Idomeneo hdl 1018
Wolf Trap’s Idomeneo, with Samarin, Koziara and Dyachek
© Scott Suchman/Wolf Trap

A NEW PRODUCTION of Mozart’s Idomeneo (cut to run a little under three hours) opened the Wolf Trap season with another updating, in this case involving a vaguely late-nineteenth-century look. Between Ryan Howell’s set and Amanda Seymour’s costumes (lots of olive drab and high boots), the net effect was decidedly glum, if not plain ugly. Omer Ben Seadia’s direction assured a steadily unfolding drama, given further push from conductor Geoffrey Andrew McDonald’s fleet tempos. At the performance on June 24, nearly all the singers pressed their voices too hard, but tasteful application of embellishments proved a plus throughout. In the title role, Ian Koziara kept his beefy tenor pumping at full volume. His lack of dynamic variation and Italianate elegance of phrase took a toll, though Koziara’s expressive urgency and fervent acting paid off. Megan Mikailovna Samarin offered sure technique and tonal warmth as Idamante. Madison Leonard used her agile soprano stylishly as Ilia; more coloristic variety in the tone would have been welcome. As Elettra, Yelena Dyachek, done up like Cruella de Vil, sang boldly and a bit harshly but gave the performance a telling jolt. Duke Kim, as a rifle-toting Arbace, sounded unpolished, but he phrased vividly. As the High Priest, Senhica Klee revealed a promising, reedy tenor with a hint of sweetness. Cory McGee brought a steady bass-baritone to the Voice of Neptune. (Neptune was a frequent observer in the background.)

The chorus sang firmly and handled assorted stage business—some dancing, frequent rearranging of props, smearing a blood-like substance on the back wall, etc.—with aplomb.  —Tim Smith 



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