Romeo Juliet Cincinnati Opera 1

Nicole Cabell as Juliet and Matthew White as Romeo in Cincinnati Opera’s production of Charles Gounod’s "Romeo and Juliet"
Photo credit: Philip Groshong

"Romeo & Juliet" — Still a tragedy, even in French

As a child of the early '80s with a penchant for angsty pop rock, Baz Luhrmann's 1996 masterpiece "Romeo + Juliet" was my first emotional exposure to Shakespeare's classic. With Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular…

As a child of the early ’80s with a penchant for angsty pop rock, Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 masterpiece “Romeo + Juliet” was my first emotional exposure to Shakespeare’s classic. With Leonardo DiCaprio as the titular Romeo and Claire Danes as my pre-teen crush Juliet, I finally understood what true love was supposed to be about. I recall I clung to that love-by-way-of -fatal-tragedy ethos far too long, whenever I happen upon my 8th grade journal.

My most recent emotional experience with literature’s ultimate “pair of star-crossed lovers” was just recently at Cincinnati Opera. The familiar tale played out over around three hours, and I couldn’t help being pulled by nostalgia for those earlier visions. Where Leo wore his angst on his face, tenor Matthew White delivered it via voice. Star-crossed with soprano Nicole Cabell, the tragedy unfolded before us in operatic French.

Count Capulet (Thomas Dreeze)
Photo credit: Philip Groshong

Cincinnati Opera, in it’s 99th season (the performance on June 27th was 99 years to the day), is renowned for its set and costume design. A single red rose stood massively in the center of the stage before the curtain. We stared down into the blood-red petals, knowing what was to come before our time together was up, and knowing it would be beautiful all along. A note I jotted down during the performance says “looks like a Baroque painting.” In the ball scene, where Romeo and Juliet first spy one another and fall head over heels (as teenagers do), the cast could have been from a 16th century painting.

The performance isn’t all tragic emotional gymnastics and teenage deaths. It had its fair share of comedy and slapstick — baritone Hadleigh Adams’ Mercutio stole the show early in Capulet’s manor before giving the spotlight back to White. And, while you’d think the man called Prince of Cats would be a good time as well, tenor Piotr Buszewski’s Tybalt is as serious as a stab wound. And that’s basically his goal for the entire performance until Romeo makes him a grave man.

Gregorio (Phillip Bullock) tries to intimidate Stephano (Reilly Nelson)
Photo credit: Philip Groshong

The duets between Cabell and White were impressive and stirring. They made me really kick myself for not having French-speaking parents so I could follow along without the super titles. Which brings me to my one complaint. Media seats are rather close, so I spent a fair amount of time holding my head tilted way back to read the words. I’d reckon anything farther than six rows offers a tremendous show and less craning.

Cincinnati Opera’s next performance is “Ariadne auf Naxos,” starting July 6 at SCPA.

John David Back is a Cincinnati native who lives and works in OTR. He’s an avid reader and a mediocre writer who loves the experience of art and beauty. Tell him what he should experience and send fan mail to