TAMPA — Drama is great in opera when you can get it. It has never been considered essential, at least not when compared with the music, with which things like acting and character and staging are at best unequal partners.
When the opera is Romeo and Juliet, written tightly around its romantic leads, it does help if the singers can not only sing the lines but also embody them. Fortunately for Opera Tampa, which opens its season with Charles Gounod's adaptation of the Shakespeare play, those theatrical elements are in place. Richard Troxell, who started off as a musical theater actor, gives the role of Romeo a sense of longing and desperation and joy. His liquid tenor surfs a crest of emotion, elevating the show a notch higher while capturing its heart.
Sarah Joy Miller's brightness and rapid vibrato suits the buoyant Juliet in the initial encounters with Romeo. Her voice expands and deepens in the more pensive arias, coloring the text all the more effectively by virtue of its restraint. Both she and Troxell have played the title roles before, and it shows. (The pair also worked together in the New York City Opera's production of Anna Nicole, in which Miller played Anna Nicole Smith and Troxell played a plastic surgeon.)
Players in supporting roles stepped up when called upon. The rivalry between Romeo's friend Mercutio, portrayed with bravado and a rich baritone by Gabriel Preisser, and Daniel T. Curran as Juliet's cousin Tybalt, provides necessary hostility between the clans, mostly because Curran, in his Opera Tampa debut, augments a rapierlike tenor with believable adolescent swagger and snarl. Won Cho returns to the Tampa Bay area stage, underscoring the gravitas of it all as Lord Capulet in a beautiful bass-baritone.
Robyn Rocklein adds a subtle humor to her mezzo-soprano counterpart as Juliet's nurse, Gertrude; and mezzo Kimberly Sogioka shines in her aria as Stephano, Romeo's impetuous page. Bass-baritone David Cushing lends the production its most glorious support as the couple's ally, Friar Lawrence, who gives Juliet a potion that will simulate death long enough for her to escape her father's demand that she marry Count Paris.
Of course, an exiled Romeo believes she is dead and takes poison to join her in eternity. Unlike the play, Juliet awakens in time to sing a protracted duet before he dies and she stabs herself, a bit of drama added by librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré.
Troxell does the heaviest lifting, adorning Romeo with emotion and so much flowing exactitude, it is impossible not to focus on him when he is singing. Troxell and Miller combine for a soaring duet in Juliet's room at dawn, the bittersweet next-to-last scene ("Parting is such sweet sorrow.") before he must leave town. Moments like these, with full backing in staging, costumes, ensemble and orchestra, give Opera Tampa the splash it needed to start the season.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.