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Published: Tuesday, 10/10/2006

Opera gives tender rendering of romantic Romeo and Juliet

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Love was in the air last night as the Toledo Opera opened its 2006-2007 season with Charles Gounod s Romeo and Juliet. As the big red curtain on the Valentine Theatre stage opened for the overture, the oversized heart projected on it seemed to break in half, a reminder of the tragedy ahead.

The Shakespearean story has inspired centuries of composers including Berlioz, Prokofiev, and Tchaikovsky. When Charles Gounod premiered his operatic version in 1867 in Paris, it became the French composer s first operatic success.

This new Toledo production, conducted by Thomas Conlin and directed by Marc Verzatt, is a tender interpretation with fine singing by a cast of mostly young and talented singers and a large chorus.

Undisputed star of this cast is soprano Barbara Shervis, whose supple, honeyed, and many-timbred voice brought Juliet to life and later, of course, to death with grace and unself-conscious agility.

Her acting was convincing. Those who saw last year s production of Pagliacci will no doubt remember her; this year s audience will, too.

Eric Fennell as Romeo plied his lyric if restrained tenor voice well, particularly in the many duets with his romantic counterpart.

As the opera progressed, he lost an early stiffness and by the end was breathing life into the part of the tragic hero.

Supporting roles of note were played by Lee Gregory (Mercutio), a dynamic actor and marvelous baritone; mezzo Leah Wool (Stephano), whose verve was a great match for her colorful and flexible voice; bass Stefan Szkafarowsky (Friar Lawrence), whose rich rumble and convincing stage presence brought to life an otherwise two-dimensional part, and mezzo Ann McMahon Quintero (Gertrude), a spitfire with a voice to match.

The chorus produced a rich and resonant sound and provided the necessary color and action, although a little more of the latter would be an improvement. The Toledo Symphony provided sensitive accompaniment throughout.

Rounding and greatly enhancing the stage action were eight Toledo Ballet Company dancers choreographed by Arkadiy Orohosky, new director of the school. Particularly in the first and last acts, their appearance brought depth and variety to this three-hour opera.

Performances of Romeo and Juliet will repeat Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. in the Valentine Theatre. Tickets are available through the opera.

Contact Sally Vallongo at: svallongo@theblade.com or 419-724-6001.



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