Roméo et Juliette, Metropolitan Opera, New York

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According to operatic wags, Montserrat Caballé was always available for a limited number of cancellations. Some divas are like that. And such now seems to be the case with Angela Gheorghiu.

The capricious Romanian was supposed to portray Juliette in Gounod’s pretty tragedy on Thursday, but she withdrew mysteriously from this and all subsequent performances. The official reason: illness. To replace her, the Met drafted Hei-Kyung Hong, a currently underutilised soprano who last undertook this challenge in 1996. She looked lovely and enacted the heroine’s plight with passionate, detailed zeal, even in the misdirected early scenes where the innocent child is required to act like a shameless coquette. Her lustrous tones may have been more effective in passages of repose than glitter, but she gave a committed, poignant performance. The company should cherish her.

Piotr Beczala introduced a handsome, mellifluous, ardent Roméo who sometimes pushed his fine lyric tenor into danger zones for expressive impact. (The crack that marred the ascending climax of Act Three is forgiven, if not forgotten.) James Morris had the good sense to resist making the kindly Frère Laurent a besotted buffoon, as the character had been when this staging was new five years ago. His basso is now somewhat threadbare, however, and certainly not profondo. Julie Boulianne seemed more strident than charming as Stéphano, but the supporting cast, luxuriously led by Dwayne Croft as Capulet, was strong. Plácido Domingo, himself an erstwhile Roméo, sustained loud and stodgy routine in the pit, and tended to slight Gallic finesse.

The quasi-modern production, directed by Guy Joosten and designed by Johannes Leiacker, remains fussy, clumsy and cluttered. It toys with revolving discs, faux-Renaissance vistas and kitschy tricks (a balcony pops out of a wall, a floating bed accommodates the newlyweds mid-air). Still, the overwhelming impressions involve an endless series of astrological symbols projected on the cyclorama. The images, though tedious and distracting, must be fraught with profundity because Shakespeare’s story concerns star-cross’d lovers.

OK. We get it. Sigh.

Metropolitan Opera

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