Review: A ‘Roméo et Juliette’ Is Saved by Its Stars

Sometimes you just need a few great singers.

Two weeks ago at the Metropolitan Opera, a superb cast in “La Forza del Destino” outshone a new, somewhat confused staging by Mariusz Trelinski. And now, Bartlett Sher’s handsome yet unconvincing 2016 production of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” has returned to the house with a pair of singers in splendid form.

Sher’s staging situates the action on a raised platform surrounded by stone facades and colonnades. Each sharply etched scene from Shakespeare’s tragic romance — the ball, the balcony, the bedroom, the tomb — occurs more or less in a town square.

Beautifully lit by Jennifer Tipton and costumed by Catherine Zuber, the production runs out of ideas quickly. But that doesn’t really matter when you have singers on the order of Nadine Sierra and Benjamin Bernheim in the title roles. For an opera steeped in raptures and reveries, in which fantasies of romantic bliss compete with premonitions of a pessimistic outcome, Sierra and Bernheim were a dream at the revival’s second performance on Sunday.

Sierra was luscious, lovely and free throughout her range. Although her full, warm voice sounded a tad mature to portray a teenage girl, the disarming generosity of her sound conveyed a trusting, childlike quality. Reluctant and bashful in Act I, with a naturally youthful demeanor, Sierra started Juliette’s waltz with a coy, plain-spoken quality — a bold choice for the opera’s most famous set piece — and rendered the coloratura with a plump tone.

Her ripe timbre signaled that she probably would be better suited to the Act IV potion aria, and more than that, she was stupendous. Once again, she began the aria softly. Then it blossomed with Juliette’s fatalistic determination and came to multiple climaxes with a magnificent series of high notes that spun like liquid gold. Daring to glory in her sound, Sierra touched the operatic firmament. The applause went on and on.

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