Dayton Opera Presents a Timeless Classic

Romeo and Juliette, with Veleta Tempranillo

By Eric Street

Looking for an unforgettable way to celebrate a special occasion? The Dayton Opera offers one of the hottest tickets in town with Charles Gounod’s lushly romantic Romeo and Juliet. Get your tickets now — performances are Friday, February 24 at 8p.m. and Sunday, February 26 at 3p.m. at the Schuster Center.

Shakespeare’s iconic Romeo and Juliet has inspired operas, ballets and orchestral works as diverse as Prokofiev’s ballet of the same name, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture, an extended choral symphony by Berlioz and Bernstein’s West Side Story.  Of some two dozen operatic treatments of the story, Gounod’s lyrical masterpiece has proven the most enduring.

Rehearsals for opening night are in full swing, and conductor Pat Reynolds is enthusiastic about the cast. “I’m absolutely delighted to be working with these artists on this Dayton Opera production. Tom Bankston has assembled a terrifically gifted cast, particularly, as one would expect, our Romeo and Juliet,” says Reynolds. “Rehearsals are intense and detailed. Our stage director Albert Sherman is fabulous to work with — very demanding, but he understands how to pace the long days in staging rehearsals. Best of all, the music! This is a gorgeous and exciting score that perfectly captures the range of passion and tragedy of the Shakespeare play.”

The Dayton Opera cast of Romeo and Juliet is notable for its many debuts.  Soprano Joanna Mongiardo, praised for her effortless coloratura, makes her Dayton Opera debut in the title role of Juliet. Her recent performance in Giordano’s rarely performed Il Re with Teatro Gratticielo at Lincoln Center in New York was among David Shengold’s selections for Das Opernwelt’s “Best of Year” 2011 issue.

Romeo is sung by tenor Ryan MacPherson, also making his first appearance with the Dayton Opera.  One of the most in-demand young tenors of his generation, MacPherson is recognized for his riveting stage presence. Baritone William McGraw, who performed in last season’s Fidelio, returns to the Dayton Opera as Juliet’s father, Count Capulet. Baritone Chad Sloan and bass Nathan Stark make their Dayton Opera debuts as Mercutio and Friar Lawrence, and Julia Mintzer will don the trousers for the role of Stephano, The sparkling first act, set at the Capulet’s masked ball where the young lovers first meet, will be enhanced by members of the Gem City Ballet, with choreography by Barbara Pontecorvo and the Dayton Opera Chorus, under the direction of Jeffrey Powell, is featured particularly in the prologue and gala first act.
Albert Sherman, stage director for New York City Opera, returns to direct his fifth production for the Dayton Opera.  His most recent engagement here was for the 2009 Merry Widow. Patrick Reynolds, Assistant Conductor for the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, will be at the podium.

About the Opera

Gounod’s opera Faust played over 300 times at the Théâtre Lyrique (now Théâtre du Châtelet) by the time the theatre manager commissioned Gounod to compose Roméo et Juliette.  Despite difficulties in casting the Romeo and problems forcing Gounod to compose the last act twice, the April 1867 opening night was hailed as a major success.  That July marked the London premiere of the opera, and in November it debuted in New York.  In 1873 Roméo et Juliette entered the repertoire of the Opéra-Comique, where it received nearly 400 performances in 14 years.  In 1888, Roméo et Juliette moved to the Paris Opéra, with Adelina Patti and Jean de Reszke singing the title roles.

Reasons for its success are not hard to fathom.  Adapted from one of William Shakespeare’s most performed plays, Romeo and Juliet offers a well-known plot emblematic of the struggles of young lovers.  The opera’s composer, Charles Gounod, made the most of the many musical opportunities inherent in the story, giving the passionate couple a series of luscious duets, stretching from their first meeting at the Capulet’s ball to their final farewell in the Capulet family tomb. In line with operatic tradition, the librettists manage to keep both of the pair alive long enough to sing an impassioned duet before death claims them, in stark contrast to Shakespeare’s play, which grants them each a soliloquy over the apparently lifeless body of the other.

Along the way there are plenty of other wonderful musical numbers, beginning with Juliet’s 1st Act Maria Callas, “Ah! Je veux vivre!”  It’s a delightfully showy coloratura waltz song akin to Marguerite’s “Jewel Song” in Faust.  To sample this vocal delicacy, do some research into “Je veux vivre,” and choose from a multitude of widely contrasting sopranos including Renee Fleming, Anna Netrebko, Anna Moffo, Kathleen Battle, Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Ruth Ann Swenson, Mirella Freni, Monserrat Caballe and Natalie Dessay.

If listening to some of the 6,000 renditions of the song has you hooked, check out “Ah! léve-toi, soleil,” Romeo’s passionate balcony scene aria.  Personal favorites available singing this lyric tenor staple include Jussi Bjoerling, Alfredo Kraus and Juan Diego Florez.

How to Go

After earning national press coverage, $15  Friday Nite Tweet Seats will return! Tweet Seats are located in the balcony so the light from smart phones does not distract others.

For tickets, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit Dayton Opera has teamed with Veleta Wines for a special promotion. While supplies last, purchase two regular priced tickets to Romeo and Juliet and receive a complimentary bottle of Veleta Tempranillo wine at the performance! Use the code “Veleta” when ordering tickets. Restrictions are available on Dayton Opera’s website. All performances are supertitled in English!

Reach DCP freelance writer Eric Street at

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Eric Street is Professor of Music at UD with a doctorate from Indiana University. His Carnegie Hall debut led to performances in 36 countries on six continents. An opera lover, he’s taught Opera History and accompanied over two-dozen singers from the Metropolitan and NYC Opera. Reach him at

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