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Romeo et Juliette review at Grange Park Opera, Surrey – ‘a lack of chemistry’

Olena Tokar and David Junghoon Kim in Romeo et Juliette at Grange Park Opera. Photo: Robert Workman
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Charles Gounod’s second most popular opera (after Faust), Romeo et Juliette suffers from the composer falling in love with the sheer loveliness of his own music and simply going on too long rather than cutting to the dramatic chase.

But beautiful his delicate, Pre-Raphaelite score certainly is, especially as stylishly played by the English National Opera Orchestra, on pristine form under conductor Stephen Barlow, who understands the need for Gallic lightness in the textures.

Near ideal, too, are Francis O’Connor’s designs, which move the story to 1930s Italy, with the Capulets a black-shirt gang and the Montagues a looser assembly of freer spirits. David Plater’s canny lighting makes the clear lines of O’Connor’s uncluttered sets and characteristically Italian fashion-conscious costumes look marvellous.

Vocally, the central performances are pretty good. Ukrainian soprano Olena Tokar engages passionately with Juliette, though she lacks a proper trill and her top register can turn strident. Korean tenor David Junghoon Kim is more consistent, effortlessly producing fine tone and shaping Gounod’s lines with sensitivity.

The problem is that they show little interest in each other, which is fatal for an opera that depends on their mutual adoration. Kim, indeed, needs to develop his physical acting, which is currently no match for his high-quality vocalism.

Showing them the way are several of the rest of the cast, with Clive Bayley demonstrating just what potential there is in a secondary role like Capulet and Anthony Flaum a vital Tybalt.

As Frere Laurent Mats Almgren needs better diction, but Anna Grevelius makes a good deal out of Stephano’s scene, Gary Griffiths proves a bright spark as Mercutio, and Olivia Ray discovers more than you might expect in Juliette’s nurse Gertrude. There’s top quality work throughout from the chorus, too, both vocally and dramatically.

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A generally excellent production compromised by a lack of chemistry at its centre