Roméo et Juliette


Gaiety Theatre, Dublin

Ah, the old days. Back in 1945, the last time Opera Ireland (then still the Dublin Grand Opera Society), presented Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, the company’s spring season ran for nearly a month. There were 22 performances of seven operas, and nearly a third of them were at the Cork Opera House.

Roméo et Juliettehad also been given in Dublin just two years previously, by the Dublin Operatic Society at the Capitol Theatre, and it featured at the Wexford Festival in 1967.

All of these productions were well received in these pages, and Opera Ireland’s latest Roméo et Juliette, which opened at the Gaiety Theatre on Saturday, adds to what appears to be a happy production history for the work.

Annilese Miskimmon’s production updates the action to the 19th century, jumping forward to the present for the tomb scene, with Roméo abandoning his Victorian formal wear for a hoodie.

The settings by Leslie Travers are imbued with a kind of horror-film, gothic atmosphere. The wallpaper doesn’t just peel, it pulls away to allow people enter down a ladder. And the super-sized cupboard that dominates the stage does transformations (balcony, bedroom, vestiary) that wouldn’t be out of place in a Tim Burton film. Indeed, the hollow-eyed chorus is sometimes lit by Chris Davey as though it might be working on just such a movie.

The cupboard as closet metaphor may be a bit blatant for some tastes. But the production is far more faithful to the dynamic of the plot, and the Victorian era certainly provides rich resonances for mismatches between the public and the private in sexual behaviour.

The Roméo (Michael Spyres) and Juliette (Nathalie Manfrino) both look young, and Spyres has a manner that convincingly combines ardency and grace and always lives in the emotion of the moment, whether it’s the depth of his feeling or the most tender of recollections. Manfrino’s responses are less specific, often vocally heftier, and more conventionally virtuosic in dealing with the challenges of Gounod’s writing. She is at her best as she negotiates the vacillations of her inner conflict about taking the potion.

Paolo Battaglia makes a compassionate Frère Laurent, Imelda Drumm is an unusually plausible Stéphano, and Roberto Covatta a rather over-the-top Tybalt.

Conductor Jérôme Pillement is a tower of musical strength. He secures first-rate playing from the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and is ever alert to the orchestra’s ability to colour character and situation. You don’t have to agree with all his decisions to be impressed at the consistency and detail of his achievement. Season, including concert performances of

I Capuletti e I Montecchi, runs until Sunday.