Opera51 at 51 Walden Performing Arts Center in Concord
Review by Pamela Marshall
Since 2007, the people who are now called Opera51 have produced an opera in June. It’s a great post-season use of the hall after the other resident groups finish their productions and concerts. Opera51 draws on skills from all the resident ensembles—Concord Orchestra, Concord Band and Concord Players.
The 2016 production is Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare provided the iconic story, and Charles Gounod wrote the dramatic music. But it was our own local opera company that transported us to the Medieval era with elaborate costumes and the arches of a castle, with moonlight behind. The singers and orchestra drew us into this long-ago world and kept us on the edge of our seats as we saw and heard the well-known plot unfold.
Maybe I’m just jumpy, but I shuddered in the opening Prologue as the chorus laid out the tragedy to come. I held onto my chair, dreading the fatal choice as Juliet contemplated taking the body-immobilizing potion. I gasped when Romeo abruptly drank the poison, and when Juliet used the dagger.
The stars of the show
Joshua Collier as Romeo delivered drama and ecstatic expression with his powerful tenor. He played his part with high energy and passion.
Robin Farnsley as Juliet sang her arias and duets with intensity and beautiful long lines. Gounod gave Juliet a few moments of coloratura singing, but the power of the role is lyrical. In the most serious moments, Robin sang with depth and purpose. Robin deserves high praise for her additional role as artistic and stage director of this impressive production. She sewed costumes too.
Kim Lamoureux as the boy Stephano was charming; Craig Tata as Friar Lawrence and Christopher T. Loschen as the Duke delivered their more serious parts with gravitas. The swordplay between Tybalt (Stanley Wilson) and Mercutio (Scott Ballantine), and later Romeo was lively and realistic.
Chorus and orchestra
The chorus sang well and looked at ease in their elegant costumes, as if they belonged in the 1490s. The opening chorus in the Prologue sets the tragic mood. As the chorus filed onto the stage, with stern expression, the fatal feud was painted visually with red-robed Capulets on the right and blue Montagues on the left. In the chorus after Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment, the chorus was precise and menacing as Capulets and Montagues exchanged threats.
Opera51’s founding conductor, Alan Yost, directed the orchestra. He followed and supported the singers and let the orchestra blossom with sound at the big moments. The orchestra, a reduced arrangement from Gounod’s original, contributes much to the intensity of the drama and was appropriately full and strong. For the most part, the instruments didn’t overpower, and the balance between singers and orchestra was good from my seat near the back. An extra costuming touch: the orchestra skipped the usual black outfits, and players on the left wore Montague blue and those on the right wore Capulet red. Yost wore purple, like the Duke.
The performance wasn’t perfect, but the many beautifully designed and well-performed details outshined any small issues. The opera performance was moving and memorable and I enjoyed it very much.
Producing an opera takes a community
There are the lead singers, chorus, and orchestra. The program book noted the orchestra members who came from the Concord Orchestra, Concord Band and Carlisle Chamber Orchestra.
Then there is all the behind-the-scenes work. The program book included two pages of credits, with many names, for all the tasks that keep this little company going. The business community is supportive too, with many pages of ads.
It’s a special treasure to have live opera, fully staged, visually magnificent and musically magical, right here in downtown Concord, Massachusetts.