A lone man rose to his feet and shouted “bravo!” at the end of the drawn-out double suicide scene of “Roméo et Juliette” at Tucson Music Hall Saturday night.
That’s a scene that should have delivered the emotional gut punch, the tears-streaming-down-your-cheeks moment. The audience loosely filling two-thirds of the Music Hall should have bolted to its feet applauding so feverishly their hands stung.
We didn’t. We felt no emotion as we watched the very fine soprano Jennifer Black and the admirable tenor Brian Stucki in the greatest romantic roles of all time. Throughout the performance, there was something missing: chemistry.
From the moment they first met at the Capulet masked ball in the opening scene, their love story felt forced and awkward. Instead of feeling like we were eavesdropping on a great romance, we felt like we were watching a detached couple going through the motions.
That’s not to say the performance didn’t have its high points. There were a number of standout performances: The Arizona Opera Chorus was fabulous and the orchestra sounded crisp and clean under the baton of James Meena. Jordan Bisch brought a burnished bass and sense of compassion as Frére Laurent. Contralto Meredith Arwady turned on the charm and vocal prowess as Juliette’s nurse Gertrude. Soprano Laura Wilde, a member of Arizona Opera’s Marion Roose Pullin Resident Artist Program, was a standout in the pants role of Stéphano. And Stucki had an ornate tenor when he projected at full force. Unfortunately he spent most of the night dragging on the softer end of his vocal abilities and you could barely hear him.
There also were some missteps, not the least of which might have been the introduction by director/choreographer Candace Evans of a trio of narrators reciting Shakespeare’s original text. Evans apparently wanted to remind us where the story came from and perhaps fill in some of the blanks the opera left out of the original play. But the narrators become more of a distraction than an effective transition.
Stucki and Black’s lack of chemistry set the tempo for the entire performance Saturday night. It spilled over into the way Roméo interacted with Stéphano, Mercutio (David Adam Moore, who showed off a marvelously rich baritone) and Benvolio (sung with grace by David Marulis). The quartet was supposed to be a tight posse, but Roméo seemed the odd man out, dancing around awkwardly in a group that seemed tighter without him. In the dueling scene between Mercutio and Tybalt (played with over-the-top emotion by tenor Victor Ryan Robertson), Roméo’s grief for his cousin gets buried in his mourning over the loss of his relationship with Juliette. In the end we didn’t know if we should feel more sorry for him for the loss of his cousin or that his revenge — killing Tybalt — spelled doom to his blossoming relationship with Juliette.
Opera is supposed to be the ultimate theater experience, the marriage of music, scenery, singing and acting. You are supposed to feel a connection with the heroes and heroines. But on Saturday night, when it came time for Roméo and Juliette make the ultimate sacrifice for their love, we felt nothing. We offered up kind applause and moved toward the exit.
The Arizona Opera concludes its Tucson run of “Roméo et Juliette” today with soprano Corinne Winters and tenor Zach Borichevsky in the title roles. The pair is a couple in real life, so perhaps chemistry won’t be an issue.
Arizona Opera’s “Roméo et Juliette” at Tucson Music Hall Saturday. The performance repeats at 2 p.m. today with soprano Corinne Winters and tenor Zach Borichevsky in the title roles.