On Sunday the 1st, we went to the matinee performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Skylight Opera in Milwaukee. The Skylight normally specializes in "light" opera, so seeing the grand opera by Charles Gounod (better known for his famous Faust) on the season schedule was somewhat of a surprise. This production was actually an experiment, with mixed results. Of necessity, the company heavily cut the five-act original down to two acts, each made up of several scenes. In order to preserve the story, dialog and scenes from the Shakespeare play were inserted, resulting in a hybrid production, which seemed more like a slightly abridged play with music rather than an opera with spoken dialog.
There were a number of things about the production that unfortunately jarred, among them costumes: Romeo, Benvolio, Mercutio, and other supporting cast members sport Ren Faire garb. Papas Montague and Capulet wear modern-seeming business suits under their fur-trimmed robes. Paris and other noblemen sport frock coats and riding boots. Tybalt looks like a gunfighter in his long black leather duster, and Juliet's wardrobe seems borrowed from a Jean Harlow picture. All in all the effect is as though the show had no costume budget and was dressed in whatever could be scrounged from storage. In the Capulet's ball scene, all the guests carry decorated quarterstaves, largely for no discernible function. I hoped to see some clever choreography with the sticks, but what little there was was clumsy and distracting. The absurdly long train of Juliet's pregnoir in the balcony scene was handled a bit better, though it was still a distraction. I kept expecting to see Romeo clamber up it like Rapunzel's hair.
The Journal-Sentinel reviewer was rather harsh on Matt Morgan as Romeo, alleging he had only two volumes, loud and louder. It did not seem so to us. His performance could have been a bit more nuanced, but was not at all bad. Vanessa Conlin enjoyed her first starring role as Juliet, and, in the first act, seemed to not be acting much, relying on her doll-like prettiness and undeniably beautiful voice to carry her through. However, she warmed up in the second act, which she opens with a bravura aria, and continued to be more engaging. Michael A. Mayes was good wild Mercutio, although in his duel scene, his Warner Brothers-inspired cries of "woo woo" and the big smooch he plants on Tybalt were further indications of the lack of a unified vision for this production. Robert M. Bolden was appropriately sinister as the vengeful Tybalt.
My final criticism was that the swordplay was clumsy and uninteresting. I expect we are somewhat spoiled by American Players Theatre, but I have come to expect one of two standards for stage fighting—it should either be fast and realistic, or flashy and balletic in the old theatrical style. This was neither.
All that said, we still had a good time and thought the experiment well worthwhile. The cast members sang well and generally acted adequately, making good use of the minimal set, and the orchestra handled Gounod's romantic score very nicely.