I grew up listening to opera. Not by choice, really. Love of opera is something my father hopes to pass on to his kids, like heirloom furniture or athletic talent.
I’d wake up on Saturday mornings with Carmen roaring from the two bulky speakers in the living room and the smell of breakfast slithering through the crack in my door. Some people listen to the TV when they are preparing food, some people prefer NPR. My father, he listens to opera when he cooks.
I’m sure at the time I cursed Georges Bizet and his gypsies simply for being my alarm clock on weekends. But when I hear “Toreador,” I can’t help but smile.
My father took me to see Lucia di Lammermoor, a horribly tragic three-act piece by Gaetano Donizetti, when I was 13 or so. It was my first opera. Despite the viciously sad story, I found it to be both terrible and magical. The experience taught me the most important lesson any theater-patron can get: always bring Kleenex.
I consider opera a gift my father gave me, and this weekend, I decided to pass along the gift. I took my boyfriend, who has never been to an opera, to see a performance at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver.
The Opera House is a beautiful venue, modern and yet perfectly classic. It’s a grand space adorned with—of course—a thick, red curtain. I hadn’t told Jon which opera we were seeing. I didn’t want to scare him. He has an intense fear of boredom, and anything labeled a “classic” would cause pangs of dread. So when the announcer welcomed us to Opera Colorado’s production of Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet, I could feel him flinch. But it was too late for an escape. Cue evil cackle.
The thing about Romeo & Juliet is that everyone has pretty much read it, watched it or at the very least, seen Claire Danes and Leonardo Decaprio turn it on its head. Gounod’s version is pared down to a succinct retelling of Shakespeare’s famed tragedy. It’s most known for its series of duets and “Je veux vivre,” an enchanting waltz sung by Juliet.
And overall, Juliet shined brightest on this Friday performance. Ava Pine, a young soprano, was exceptional. With a broad range, Pine’s vocals draw you in and then give you a little slap across the face. She’s a stellar actress as well, deftly traversing Juliet’s fall from sweet and girlish to womanly and love-lost.
Giuseppe Varano’s Romeo is best when he’s serenading his Juliet; his “L’Amour, L’amour” was strong, impassioned. Broad and masculine, Varano commands attention on stage—a far cry from the boyish Romeo we so often see. And yet Varano plays this role with a slight hesitancy, as though he does not want to outshine his Juliet.
My one criticism of the production—something I noticed as Jon shifted and fidgeted in his seat around act five—was that though this version is somewhat condensed, there are moments that just simply drag. The scene in which Juliet is face to face with the serum that will send her into a deep sleep is painfully slow. “Just drink the damn poison,” I said quietly. But for the vast majority of the production, the pacing was right on and the performances were stellar.
And Jon liked it, which says a lot. He’s looking forward to another one. Something, he says, a bit more lively. I agree, maybe La Traviata or even, Carmen.
Did you miss Opera Colorado’s Romeo & Juliet? Never fear. Check out their production of Don Giovanni on March 30, April 2, 5 and 7.