I couldn’t get to the live broadcast of this opera last Saturday. Accordingly, I went to the encore presentation today.

Bart Sher’s production of Gounod’s opera was telecast by the Met in 2017. In my review of this staging, I said this: “This production, by Bartlett Sher, is new to the Met though its origin goes back to La Scala in 2008. Its time is moved from Renaissance Verona to the 18th century. Actually, the costumes looked more appropriate to Venice than Verona. As is typical with time shifting in opera, the change added nothing to the opera’s realization. All the action took place in what appeared a piazza surrounded by greyish nondescript buildings. This arrangement allowed the action to run smoothly from scene to scene. The sword fights were brilliantly choreographed by BH Barry.” While the sets are dreary, the 18th-century costumes were colorful and attractive. I suspect the decision was made to spend most of the show’s budget on clothes and get by with a unitary set.

Of course, this opera depends on the singers portraying its two eponymous characters. The Met made a very felicitous choice for its leads. The French tenor Benjamin Bernheim has a beautiful lyric voice that is perfect for Roméo. Its timbre is rich and full and he shades his vocal line with skill and nuance to suit the emotional content of the words. He cracked (a little one, not a glass breaker) on the climactic high B-flat that concludes Ah! lêve-toi soleil and showed a little strain on a few other high notes. But these slips were insignificant when weighed against the totality of his singing which was brilliant. His portrayal was not as energetic as that of Vittorio Grigolo (he was in the previous HD show) who climbed the wall leading to Juliette’s balcony in the beyond-famous scene. He wooed from terra firma.

Juliette’s part is even more demanding than that of her lover. Starting with the Waltz Song – ‘Je veux vivre’ – to ‘Amour, ranime mon courage’ which she sings after taking the potion that will lull her to a death-like sleep, and the duets with Roméo that are the highlights of the opera she was master of both ornamental and dramatic singing. On top of the vocal excellence, she is young and attractive enough to pass for the teenager she was playing were it not for Gary Halvorson’s penchant for extreme close-ups. A great performance. I can’t imagine anyone doing the role better.

The supporting cast was all first rate with some being a little more first rate than others. Noteworthy was Will Liverman as Mercutio. His singing of ‘Mab, la reine des mensonges’ was done with panache. Tenor Frederick Ballentine was suitably aggressive as Tybalt.

The Met’s chorus was at its usual high performance level in the opening scene when they depicted the young lovers’ doom and at the beginning of the second act just before Roméo’s aria. Similarly, the Met’s orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s incisive baton played with sheen luminosity, and power during the moments of action and emotional intensity. Once again, the audio gain was set so high that it’s impossible for me to know what the live audience in the Met’s auditorium heard compared to the HD listeners.

Gounod’s opera is often dismissed as a tuneful trifle. This dismissal by musicologists reminds me of the quip (I don’t know who first said it) that a musicologist is someone who can read music but can’t hear it. Verdi’s declaration that the only critic that counts is the audience serves well here. Gounod’s opera has been performed 354 times by the Met. With great singers in the title part and an insightful conductor, it’s a can’t miss show because it’s a great opera.

Roméo et Juliette
Metropolitan Opera House, Sat, March 23, 2024
Charles Gounod | Jules Barbier/Michel Carré

Roméo………..Benjamin Bernheim
Juliette……….Nadine Sierra
Frère Laurent……….Alfred Walker
Stéphano……….Samantha Hankey
Mercutio……….Will Liverman
Benvolio……….Thomas Capobianco
Gertrude……….Eve Gigliotti
Capulet……….Nathan Berg
Tybalt……….Frederick Ballentine
Pâris……….Daniel Rich
Grégorio……….Jeongcheol Cha
Duke of Verona……….Richard Bernstein

Conductor……….Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Video Director……….Gary Halvorson