So last weekend I went to see LA Opera's production of "Romeo et Juliette" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It was pretty amazing. For some reason I had forgotten, or maybe never knew, that "Romeo and Juliet" was a Shakespearean play. The program mentioned he wrote two tragic plays about lovers - R&J and "Antony and Cleopatra", the first in the early stages of his career and the latter much later. Apparently "Antony and Cleopatra" was the better work, but of course the timeless story of the young star-crossed lovers has remained spectacularly popular. Now I want to read both of Shakespeare's work.
I think the only plays of Shakespeare I read were in high school - "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Merchant of Venice". I remember having a tough time with both, but for years after, I remember thinking about certain characters or scenes as they were referenced in other plays or magazine articles or books, and really appreciating the complexity of the characters and the stories, the humor and the tragedy. I know we specifically talked about the anti-Semitism in "Merchant of Venice" back in high school, but I didn't really appreciate the depth and meaning until I was working with organizations like the ACLU.
So this production was the French adaptation of the play into an opera. The entire show was in French, but with super-titles shown on a small screen at the top of the stage.
I'm not entirely convinced of the value of the super-titles. For sure it enhanced the understanding of what was going on from moment to moment, as I wouldn't have understood the French. But, and maybe it was just because I was on the orchestra level, it was difficult to keep looking up to see the super-titles, and I thought it took my attention away from the stage and acting and singing. At times I would just be entranced by Romeo or Juliet's singing, but realize I've let a couple of lines pass by in the super-titles, so I would look up, then miss some action or facial reactions in the actors on stage. Maybe next time I should try to get a seat on the mezzanine levels.
Since the story is well known and the program laid out the synopsis pretty well, I think I could have done without the super-titles altogether, and just gotten immersed in the acting and singing. Wouldn't that be an ultimate mark of an actor - that despite not performing in the same language as understood by the audience, the audience understands what's going on?
Anyway, so there was one minor issue with this production - the singer who was to play the part of Romeo had gotten sick. Which was really unfortunate, since I had read such high reviews of him. But it was nice that Placido Domingo himself came out on stage to explain it all. And apparently, it just so happened that a tenor who got his start with the LA Opera, was in town for the group's 25th anniversary gala, and he was convinced to stay in case the main singer wasn't able to perform. I wondered why there wasn't an understudy but maybe that's not how operas work.
So the part of Romeo was performed by Charles Castronorvo, who is apparently very famous in his own right. I'm not a good judge of opera singers but I thought he was very good. The most amazing thing though, was the thought that he stepped into the role just a day or two ago, and yet the performance seemed to be flawless - there was no awkwardness, no hesitation, no trip-ups, nothing. It was as if he had been cast in the role for this entire production. I believe he's performed the role for other opera companies. But do opera singers, once they perform a part, maintain all the words and actions in their heads in perpetuity? Isn't each production slightly different in where people walk, talk, etc.? I was just floored by his talent and professionalism.
I also very much liked the character of Mercutio, performed by a Korean American singer, Museop Kim. Maybe it's just my ignorance about opera but it was really exciting to see an Asian American face in the cast. And I loved his baritone voice, so strong and clear. His acting I thought was also very good - he came off as playful, mischievous, dapper, and loyal. Not necessarily characteristics one would associate with an Asian American face. So that was really cool.
I was also very impressed by the soprano who performed the role of Juliette, Nino Machaidze. I don't think any of the singers were mic'd, but the strength of her voice was so clearly above others, it was incredible. It's like the theater crew turned up the volume three notches every time she sang, even though there weren't such effects.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience but would definitely like to see another opera from the mezzanine seats.
One thing that was kind of ironic/sad - after the show, everyone was filing out of the theater toward the stairs/escalators to the parking levels. Of course there were way too many more people than can fit on the stairs or escalators at one time, so human traffic started to back up. Which is fine, I thought, but for whatever reason, people were getting upset ("WHY are we stoppping?!) or pushing ahead into the lines and such. And I thought to myself, didn't we just watch a tragedy ensue because people let their silly personal interests or prejudices color the world around them and the way they treat others? Is it really worth the extra seconds gained - cutting in front of others or jostling or throwing hands up in the air exasperatedly? How does that make others feel?
What did the other audience members take away from the opera and the story? Was it all make-believe, just an escape for them? I'm curious to know what others took away from the experience. Maybe I'm the one over-thinking it.