Star-Crossed Lovers Soar to New Heights

Chesapeake Chamber Opera presents Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette

Baltimore, MD – The story of Romeo and Juliet is well-known to American audiences. Thanks primarily to one of history’s greatest authors, the tale of the ill-fated lovers has become a welcome part of the cultural canon. And while nearly everyone can quote certain phrases of Shakespeare’s play by heart (“…wherefore art thou Romeo?”) many may not be familiar with another “great” that offered his own interpretation of the great love story: French opera composer Charles Gounod, whose Roméo et Juliette has become a beloved standard in the operatic repertoire.

This weekend Baltimore audiences will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the haunting tones of Gounod’s masterpiece, as presented by Chesapeake Chamber Opera. Baltimore audiences may be familiar with CCO’s history of presenting opera classics in a way accessible to those formerly unfamiliar with opera, particularly with their innovative use of English narration instead of projected supertitles. But this time, the company has something new up its sleeve.

Romeo and Juliet, whether Shakespeare or Gounod, is made or broken by its stars,” admits CCO General Director Beth Stewart. History is littered with examples of successes (Zeferelli’s inspired casting of teens Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting) and failures (the 1936 film version starring a 34 year-old Norma Shearer and a 43 year-old Leslie Howard was a critical and box-office failure.)

In the Chesapeake Chamber Opera production, the famous lovers are portrayed by soprano Jennifer Edwards and tenor William Davenport. Both singers trained at the prestigious Peabody Institute and have appeared in previous CCO productions to great acclaim. Ms. Edwards’ “communicative power” and “sunny, flexible voice [which] filled the space vividly” perfectly suit Shakespeare’s tragic young heroine and Mr. Davenport’s “immediately expressive and appealing quality in the timbre” capture Roméo, again proving that he “has the makings of a significant tenor” (Baltimore Sun). Still, the question must be asked: can such young performers successfully carry an opera revered in classical music circles for its sheer beauty?

“You can’t believe it until you’ve seen it,” Ms. Stewart responds when presented with this very question. “Even in a rehearsal filled with seasoned professional musicians, people stop whatever they are doing when Jen and Billy sing. The two of them together is really something special.”

Chesapeake Chamber Opera presents Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette Saturday, February 26, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, February 27, at 3 p.m. at Memorial Episcopal Church, 1407 Bolton Street, Baltimore, MD 21217. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at www.chesapeakechamberopera.org or at the door.