Review: GLOW stages vibrant, relevant Romeo et Juliette

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Paul Hyde, phyde@greenvillenews.com7:19 p.m. ET July 29, 2016


You have to admire the pluck and audacity of GLOW Lyric Theatre.

The Greenville opera troupe, a nimble six years old, rushes in where many larger and more established opera companies fear to tread.

The results can be compelling and visually arresting — and, in the case of Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette” at Furman University’s McAlister Auditorium, musically vibrant as well.

Jenna Tamisiea, GLOW’s artistic director, transports the 1867 French opera to a contemporary America torn by strife — including protests and counter-protests — over immigration.

In a production torn from the headlines, the Montagues are outcast immigrants seeking a better life in America. The Capulets are the nativist powers-that-be, trying to keep the immigrants behind concentration-camp-like steel fences.

Those barriers of hate, however, can’t keep Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers from meeting, falling in love and sharing a high C or two.

The action takes place against Henry Wilkinson’s gritty urban set, the sort of backdrop often associated with a production of “West Side Story” — and indeed that’s the other work GLOW is performing this weekend.

Costumes are modern as well, and guns and knives take the place of swords.

True, the production may raise some eyebrows. In this modern American setting, protesters hold signs in English even as they sing in French (with projected English surtitles). This may strike some as odd, but such inconsistencies are common in updated opera stagings.

Tamisiea’s bold, edgy production is vital and alive, a reminder, if we needed one, that great works of art have a lot to say about our current lives and conflicts.

This staging boasts glowing musical values under the stylish direction of conductor and music director Christian Elser.

The young and diverse cast is terrific.

Soprano Ruth Brooks is a petite, radiant Juliette, with a rich lower register and silvery high notes. Her aria “Je veux vivre” (“I Want to Live”) sparkles with charm.

Wesley Morgan, as Romeo, has a mellifluous tenor but one with ample power for the score’s more dramatic moments — such as the interpolated high C at the end of Act III. His big aria, “Ah! Lève-toi, soleil” (“Ah! Rise, Sun”), was nicely delivered Wednesday night, though the tempo seemed a bit brisk.

Jeffrey Beruan brings a big, magnificent bass to the role of Frere Laurent, here referred to as “Pastor Lawrence.”

Benjamin Moore, as Mercutio, has a suave, resonant baritone.

Khary Wilson’s ringing tenor is well-suited to the hot-headed Tybalt.

Troy Castle’s robust bass-baritone confers the right note of dignity and authority on Capulet, here referred to as “President Capulet.”

Jessi Barnett plays the trouser role of Stefano with a youthful presence and appealing, focused mezzo-soprano.

Other fine contributions are offered by Sara Magun, Brandon Snook, Nicholas Hawkins, Ediberto Ortega and Micael Leyte-Vidal.

The chorus and soloists, when singing together, produce a glorious sound in McAlister Auditorium.

Elser elicits a generally polished sound from the 14-piece orchestra. One longs occasionally for the richness and depth of a 70-piece or even 40-piece orchestra in the pit. Perhaps that will come about in the future if Upstate audiences embrace opera with the enthusiasm they’ve show for live theater and concert music.

GLOW, Greenville’s aspirational and thought-provoking opera company, certainly deserves that support.

One more performance remains of this musically and dramatically absorbing “Romeo et Juliette” on Sunday, 3 p.m.

GLOW also will offer two more performances of “West Side Story” on Saturday.

For tickets, call 864-294-3267 or visit www.glowlyric.com/tickets.

For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

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