The 5 Worst Staging Choices in SF Opera's "Roméo et Juliette"
On opening night of San Francisco Opera’s 97th season, as the title characters in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, soprano Nadine Sierra and tenor Pene Pati sang beautifully — and major props to Pati for doing this high-pressure opening-night gig on short notice.
But this staging of the opera (originally produced at Opéra de Monte-Carlo, directed by Jean-Louis Grinda) was so bad it made me physically angry, so I hereby present:
The 5 Most Questionable Choices in Grinda’s Roméo et Juliette Production:
5. The hoary old cliche of Capulets = Red, Montagues = Blue. Why does every director pick the same colors? Furthermore, if the families’ colors are that codified, why would Roméo and his friends wear blue when trying to sneak into the Capulets’ ball? Still, I grudgingly admit that this can make for some effective stage pictures in crowd scenes.
4. Taking the intermission after the wedding scene, not after the duel scene. I realize that this would make for a very long first act (and Roméo et Juliette is not the most sprightly-paced of operas). But the duel/banishment scene is the dramatic turning point of the story — directors of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet nearly always put the intermission after III.i, or think of how West Side Story does it with the “rumble” scene. And Gounod seemed to recognize this too: the duel scene ends with the tenor singing a stunning 30-second high note, THAT’S THE NOTE YOU GO OUT TO INTERMISSION ON.
3. Several times during the opera, Roméo's lyrics indicated that he should be gazing at or touching Juliette, but he sang them from downstage center, facing front. This happened in their initial encounter at the ball, in his aria “Ah, lève-toi, soleil” (the equivalent of the “What light through yonder window breaks?” speech), even in the final tomb scene! So much more could have been done to establish a charged physical chemistry between the lovers.
2. This clunky staging was dominated by a big, clunky, raised/raked square platform, which served as Juliette’s bedroom for the balcony scene. There’s a moment in this scene where Roméo has to hide when the Capulet men come looking for him—and this production had the Capulets all race onto Juliette’s platform. Why didn't she react when a dozen men with bared swords burst into her room as she was in her shift, preparing for bed?
1. There was a crowd of totally unnecessary supernumeraries in the wedding scene, costumed as beggars and paupers at Frère Laurent’s church. Roméo and Juliette’s marriage is supposed to be super secret: why didn't they protest having all these witnesses & why didn't any of the witnesses spill the beans?