Review: Romeo and Juliet as New York Hipsters
By Kimberly Feltkamp
New York Opera Exchange began its 2013-2014 season with a staged concert of Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. This production was set in the modern day, complete with drunk party-goers, hipster reindeer sweaters, and fist fights. The action, directed by Andreas Hager, worked well in the small space of the Unitarian Church of All Souls and accurately portrayed how the age-old story would happen today. The New York Opera Exchange Orchestra, a chamber group conducted by David Leibowitz, performed magnificently, cleanly and passionately undergirding the plot. The brass section brought particular strength and majesty to the performance, adding to the drama led by the shimmering strings.
The cast, comprised completely of young, yet excellent voices, gave a strong performance. Kendra Berentsen’s Juliet, Scott Ingham’s Romeo, Victor Starsky’s Tybalt, and Nicholas A. Wiggins’ Mercutio stood out from the rest. Ms. Berentsen sang Juliet with dedication, her gorgeously ringing high notes evoking the pathos and honesty that make her character so endearing. Mr. Ingham brought a great command and an even tone to his Romeo, flaunting a wide vocal range. Mr. Starsky obviously understood the heart of Tybalt and the strength of his voice matched the strength of his characterization. He displayed a sensitivity and musicality that exceeded the norm. Mr. Wiggins’ large-voiced Mercutio filled the hall with warmth, drawing the audience into his plight. Mezzo Rebecca Henry sang Gertrude with her beautifully rich and well-tempered voice and Joseph Beckwith portrayed Capulet with a nobility of presence and vocal tone.
Some highlights of the night included Kendra Berentsen’s “Ah, je veux vivre” and the balcony scene. Ms. Berentsen’s rendition of the aria was delicate, with a pulsing energy beneath that gave it the “butterflies in the stomach” feeling that Gounod wanted. The balcony scene worked perfectly in the space, the altar of the church transforming into Juliet’s perch. The exchange between the lovers was realistic and moving. The dramatic use of lighting throughout gave an increased intensity to the staging and the creative costuming (Joel Yapching) exposed the characters’ personalities while making the story more relatable to the audience.
New York Opera Exchange’s Roméo et Juliette is a perfect example of the power and honesty of small-space opera. They pushed beyond the traditional stage requirements and produced an equally-moving experience. Mr. Hager staged the scenes practically and dramatically while the cast provided all the emotional material. The orchestra, just the right size for the space and the opera, gave the performance that extra strength. Overall, it brought to life the inner turmoil and passion of the very human characters of Romeo and Juliet.