Romeo and Juliet, Flushed and Feverish at the Met Opera

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lennygoran
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Romeo and Juliet, Flushed and Feverish at the Met Opera

Post by lennygoran » Fri Dec 23, 2016 5:38 pm

We'll be seeing this next month. Regards, Len


Romeo and Juliet, Flushed and Feverish at the Met Opera

By ZACHARY WOOLFE DEC. 22, 2016

At a recent rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera, a cliché unfolded in the middle of a passionate duet. As a soprano nestled in a tenor’s arms, the room’s temperature seemed to rise a couple of degrees.

While lovesick couples are hardly an unusual sight in opera, it’s less common for them to emit real heat. But these particular singers — Diana Damrau and Vittorio Grigolo, the stars of a new production of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” that opens at the Met on New Year’s Eve — have a chemistry that’s distinctly rare for opera. Rehearsal time is paltry, previews don’t exist, and there are generally just a handful of performances. Singers, who may not even speak each other’s language, are more or less thrown together and told to act like lovers. It’s no surprise that the act is often unconvincing.

But Ms. Damrau — who is married to the bass-baritone Nicolas Testé — and Mr. Grigolo, who appeared together for the first time just last year, have swiftly jumped near the front of the (admittedly paltry) ranks of opera’s truly combustible pairs.

As the pining, mutually destructive leads in Massenet’s “Manon” at the Met in 2015, pouring out their love at the Church of St.-Sulpice, their connection was scorching. Even in rehearsal, their duets are flushed and furious, their feverish kisses becoming plausible simulacrums of the ones you imagine dotting actual affairs. Ms. Damrau and Mr. Grigolo plainly revel in each other’s company, finishing numbers giggling in each other’s arms.

It’s hard to put a finger on what creates chemistry. But for Ms. Damrau and Mr. Grigolo, electricity may be ignited by difference: He’s explosive, distractible, juvenile, charming, Italian; she’s absorbing, determined, mature, calm, German. “She focuses him,” the production’s director, Bartlett Sher, said during a break. “You gotta stay apart,” Mr. Sher instructed them at one point. They still ended up clasped together.
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As Romeo and Juliet, Ms. Damrau and Mr. Grigolo will have to hold their own against a litany of famous exponents of the two most famous lovers in world literature. Laughing, joking and rolling their eyes at each other through an interview at the Met, they chatted about the challenge of taking the roles on, how chemistry is like cooking and whether their stage kisses are real. These are edited excerpts.


GRIGOLO (sitting down and offering Ms. Damrau some of his sandwich) Want half?

Was the Met “Manon” your first time working together?

DAMRAU It was our first. We hadn’t ever done a concert, nothing.

GRIGOLO We wanted to marry each other, but we didn’t.

Had you heard anything about one another before that?

GRIGOLO I did, big time. I heard, “She’s blonde.”

DAMRAU “He’s crazy.”

GRIGOLO When I met you for the first time, I felt at home.

DAMRAU It’s amazing because he’s such a great musician and a great actor, and he’s flexible. And he’s actually interacting.

GRIGOLO When I say I felt at home, it’s because I felt comfortable and relaxed. And whenever you feel relaxed, you can express yourself.

DAMRAU And that’s the moment when you feel you can rely on your colleague onstage. You’re so much more at ease. Remember, in “Manon,” I had my cough like now? And I was in the church, at St.-Sulpice, hanging on his back, coughing. He’d sing, and I’d be coughing behind his back. And he never said shut up.

GRIGOLO You feel the support. You feel there is a community of intensity. You can abandon yourself, you can think to do something more than what is written in the score.

Does your chemistry come out of nothing? Do you have to work at it?

GRIGOLO It’s not out of nothing. It’s like when you want to make a dish in the kitchen, you have good prime materials. Good tomato, good zucchini, good fish. Everything is so fresh. You just need to put it on the grill. Me, Diana, a good conductor, a good director: The ingredients are so good that it’s going to come out something nice.

DAMRAU It’s true.

GRIGOLO You just do the right thing. Just do it for real. We never fake it.

DAMRAU The kissing we fake.

GRIGOLO What? I don’t fake it. I never fake it.

What’s the main challenge in playing Romeo and Juliet?

DAMRAU They’re both 14. With a lot of imagination, you must find their feelings and movements, and it should look natural and come natural.

GRIGOLO I think they’re the most beautiful love characters you can make in opera.

DAMRAU Absolutely. And you have so many words, and it’s Shakespeare. It’s incredible how tough this 14-year-old girl is, how grown up she is, how clearly she sees things and makes decisions. She goes up to the priest and says, “Papa, this is my husband and you’re going to marry us.” And this is in just one page of music!

Are you having any trouble conjuring up your teenage selves?

GRIGOLO I think I don’t have to act. I don’t know about her.

DAMRAU I hated being a teenager. Not able to do anything, to make decisions. I was bored.

Diana, Bart Sher said that you focus Vittorio. Is that true?

DAMRAU Do I focus you?

GRIGOLO Big time. A man always needs a woman to be focused on.

DAMRAU And a man always needs a woman to pull the strings.

GRIGOLO You think you know everything, and they keep …

DAMRAU What do they say? “Behind a powerful man there is an even more powerful woman.”

What’s your next project together?

DAMRAU “Hoffmann” [Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffmann”] in L.A. in the spring. I’m playing all four of the heroines. But the costumes make me look so different, they won’t realize it’s the same singer.

GRIGOLO They will.

What are other things you could imagine collaborating on?

DAMRAU I have not yet done “Faust.” That we could do together.

How do you manage to keep the romantic energy going with so much else to worry about onstage?

DAMRAU We’re starting to rehearse with the orchestra. For me it’s a role debut, so when the orchestra comes it changes things, and it will obviously take some of my attention from acting and remembering what we did maybe only once or twice and kept changing. It can throw you off to get this element into the game. And then there are so many nerves, but at the end of the run, you say: “Oh no! It’s over. Let’s do another 10.”

GRIGOLO When it comes easy, it’s good to enjoy the run, you know?

DAMRAU But when you get stuck, it’s like working at a factory.

GRIGOLO It’s that Oompa Loompa rhythm. [Singing in strict march] “Oompa, loompa, doompadee doo.”

DAMRAU Then it’s too professional, too cold. When I feel I do this in a performance, I think it’s the moment I have to quit my job.


BENJAMIN WEST’S PAINTING, 1778 West, one of the most important artists of early America, was inspired by the ever more common public presentations of Shakespeare’s work in the 18th century, and perhaps by the connection between the play’s star-crossed lovers and the relationship between the United States and Britain during the American Revolution. The painting depicts the morning after Romeo and Juliet’s secret marriage, as they argue about whether dawn is breaking and whether Romeo must flee. “More light and light,” Romeo cries, “more dark and dark our woes!”

DIRECTED BY JOHN GIELGUD AT THE NEW THEATER, LONDON, 1935 The conceit of this celebrated production was Gielgud’s and Laurence Olivier’s alternating as Romeo and Mercutio. It was a substantial contrast between the elegant Gielgud and the earthy Olivier, both opposite the girlish Peggy Ashcroft, said to have been the finest Juliet of her generation. The critic James Agate wrote, “Mr. Gielgud’s Romeo is more romantic than was Mr. Olivier’s, has a much greater sense of the beauty of language, and substitutes a thoughtfulness that suits the part for an impetuosity that did not.”

RUDOLF NUREYEV AND MARGOT FONTEYN AT THE ROYAL BALLET, LONDON, 1965 Ballet’s most acclaimed couple caused a sensation in the premiere of Kenneth MacMillan’s version. “Nureyev was impetuous, glamorous, ardent,” Alastair Macaulay, the chief dance critic for The New York Times, recounted in an email. “He also seemed the world’s most arrogant man, except that with Fonteyn he behaved with real humility, which was immensely touching (or just effective). Fonteyn was bright, poetic, refined, fragile, vulnerable and determined at the same time; she had known how to make an audience care for her since her teens.”


FRANCO ZEFFIRELLI’S FILM VERSION, 1968 A “Romeo” for the era of rebellious hippiedom, Mr. Zeffirelli’s film fields Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, a spectacularly lovely title pair, in sumptuously idyllic settings. It’s all in period, but the 1960s find their way in — with Friar Laurence imagined, Renata Adler wrote in the Times, “as a modern, radical-understanding dean.” Ms. Adler added: “It wouldn’t be surprising if this film, with all its youth-adult misses of contact, and its failure of the bureaucratic post, should become the thing for young people to see.” And, indeed, it did.


‘WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO AND JULIET,’ DIRECTED BY BAZ LUHRMANN, 1996 A charismatic updating of the play to contemporary Florida, Mr. Luhrmann’s frenetic film evokes the raging, rushing emotions coursing between Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. “The frenzy gives way to a tenderness that makes sense in any language, or with no language at all,” Janet Maslin wrote in The Times, “as Mr. Luhrmann lets the camera swirl adoringly around the film’s young stars.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/22/arts/ ... ctionfront

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