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Review: Savannah VOICE Fest lets the music shine in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

  • Spotted photo by Malcolm Tully
  • Spotted photo by Malcolm Tully
  • Spotted photo by Malcolm Tully
  • Spotted photo by Malcolm Tully
  • Spotted photo by Malcolm Tully
  • Spotted photo by Malcolm Tully
  • Spotted photo by Malcolm Tully
  • Spotted photo by Malcolm Tully
 

Review: Savannah VOICE Fest lets the music shine in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

08 Aug 2016

On opening night of its fourth season, the Savannah VOICE Fest proved you don’t need a big orchestra, elaborate costumes or extensive staging to put on a world-class opera.

The only real requirement is a group of artists dedicated to their craft. And of course, a whole team of staff, volunteers and donors dedicated to helping hone that craft and bring the music to Savannah.  

It’s exactly what the VOICE Fest folks have been striving to do since the beginning, and the music was in fine form as the 2016 festival kicked off Aug. 7 with Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette” at Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church.

See more Spotted photos from the opera here.

Including the singers, musicians, director and conductor, this particular cast covers a lot of geography, hailing from Argentina, Puerto Rico, Italy, Portugal, Venezuela and the United States, with the vocalists singing in French. Audience members not fluent in the language were helped along with English supertitles.

We all know the story of Shakespeare’s tragic lovers, “Romeo and Juliet.” Sweet, innocent, doomed Juliet and impetuous, crazy-in-love Romeo were portrayed to perfection by Meechot Marrero and Santiago Ballerini, both veterans of the VOICExperience program run by festival co-founders, husband-and-wife team Sherrill Milnes and Maria Zouves.

Zouves told Do in an earlier interview that the three operas planned for this year’s fest are “Savannah size.”

“All these smaller productions fit the scale and size of their venues,” Zouves said. “It’s the voices and music we are featuring here, not any fancy set ideas or design. These stories stand on their own and will transport the audience by their sheer beauty.”

The beauty of the voices was indeed on display, with only three instruments backing it all up. Justina Lee on piano, Ricardo Ochoa on violin and Steven Elisha on cello somehow came together to make a much bigger sound than one would expect from a trio. Musical director and conductor Jorge Parodi brought forth only what was needed to elevate the singers on the stage, without upstaging them.

The rest of the small cast included Scott Russell as Frere Laurent, Tiago Matos as Mercutio, James Wright as Capulet, Carlton Moe as Tybalt and Jessica Ann Best as Gertrude. (You’ll see all the performers throughout the fest, but be on the lookout especially for Best, Wright and Moe in “Alice Ryley” on Aug. 16. See my review of the 2015 premiere here.) 

Enter to win tickets to the Savannah VOICE Fest from Do Savannah.

Matos’ Mercutio in particular, as one would expect from Romeo’s best buddy, offered some lighthearted humor early on in the performance and brought a fun energy to the stage during all of his scenes.

Stage director Fabrizio Melano even gave us some exciting, convincing swordplay between the rival factions. And I’m not sure I was expecting tighty-whities in a classical opera, but I won’t argue with his costuming choice here. Let’s just say we were left with no question about Romeo and Juliet’s “morning after” scene.

The most beautiful parts of the evening were certainly when the two leads harmonized together. Their duets of course covered all the emotions of the couple’s relationship, from their happy, hopeful beginning to the tragic and heartbreaking ending. Even though we all knew what was coming, Marrero and Ballerini still had the audience rooting for these two crazy kids.

Melano told Do before the performance: “I’ve never had as convincing a Romeo and Juliet, and I’ve done it with some very famous people. The whole cast is wonderful, but especially my Romeo and Juliet.”

Sunday’s performance proved he wasn’t exaggerating. It also proved that even as the Savannah VOICE Festival continues to grow, it hasn’t forgotten its roots.

There’s one more chance to catch “Romeo et Juliette” in Savannah, as well as a master class with Melano and a solo concert by Ballerini. The festival is ongoing through Aug. 21.

 

UPCOMING

Get the full schedule here. Order tickets at www.savannahvoicefestival.org.

 

“Opera as Drama: Febrizio Melano Master Class”

1-3 p.m. Aug. 8; The Westin Savannah Harbor Ballroom, 1 Resort Drive; $25

 

Festival opera: “Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette”

6:30 p.m. Aug. 9; Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church; $55

 

“From Argentina With Love: Santiago Ballerini”

6:30-8 p.m. Aug. 11; St. John’s Episcopal Church, 1 Macon St.; $45

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