Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - September 16, 2011

'Romeo et Juliette' to open new season

Livermore Valley Opera presenting timeless, tragic love story

Shakespeare's tale of young star-crossed lovers will come to life on the stage next weekend as the Livermore Valley Opera presents Gounod's opera, "Roméo et Juliette."

The plot is well-known, said Director Bill Murray, but Gounod's interpretation provides a unique version of the story.

"Because Shakespeare's tragic love story is known by virtually all, it represents a daunting task for a director and the cast: How do we convincingly tell a story in which every audience member already has preconceived notions?" Murray said.

"For instance, what do our lovers look like in your imagination? How long is Juliette's hair? What is she wearing? The number of differing answers to these questions is as numerous as there are audience members."

He asks that those attending come with no preconceived expectations.

"I invite them to sit back, listen to this work, let the music wash over them, and experience the powerful emotions in 'Roméo et Juliette' as Gounod intended," Murray said.

Artistic Director Alexander Katsman said that the operatic telling of the story sticks close to the original.

"Gounod gives the heroes several love duets of incredible beauty," Katsman said. "The music has many different shades, from joyous smiles to tremendous desperation, from radiant love to dark hate."

The opera will have multiple scenes, designed by Jean Francois Revon. The period costumes and props for all Livermore Valley Opera productions are procured and assembled by a multitude of volunteers.

"This is a very ambitious undertaking for us," said Teri Tith, vice president of the Livermore Valley Opera board. "There are five acts with very different scenes requiring a lot of work and careful coordination."

Bill Rabe, who leads a set construction crew of fellow volunteers, agreed.

"The sets are quite elaborate with some very large components," he said. "Our set designer wants to create a 'wow factor' for the audience and that's exactly what they'll get."

The cast of talented young opera singers adds to the "wow factorm" said Executive Director Elizabeth Wells. She said the auditions attracted many singers, with more men than usual trying for the principal role.

"Most often, productions are those of Italian or German composers, and so for an opera singer to have a chance to sing in French is a rare treat," Wells said. "We even had a group of men come all the way from Los Angeles for a chance to sing 'Roméo et Juliette.'"

The title roles will be sung by soprano Christie Hageman as Juliette and tenor Christian Reinert as Roméo. They have both performed the roles during their careers but they are debuting with Livermore Valley Opera.

The opera runs two weekends, Sept. 24-Oct. 2m at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore. On opening night a gala ticket for $75 includes dinner at Uncle Yu's at the Vineyard, followed by a dessert reception in the Bankhead Theater.

Sunday matinee performances offer "Ice Cream & Opera -- Children's Opera Learning Adventure," with ice cream during intermission and a chance for children to meet the cast members afterward and go behind the scenes.

Every performance will have a pre-opera talk one hour prior to curtain, featuring opera scholar John Prescott.

Artistic Director Katsman explained why the story of Romeo and Juliet has been so enduring.

"Above all shines the love for life and belief in goodness and love," he said. "That is why this tragedy has such a long life in arts."

Teen love at the opera

What: 'Romeo et Juliette'

Who: Livermore Valley Opera

When: 8 p.m., Saturdays, Sept. 24 and Oct. 1; 2 p.m., Sundays, Sept. 25 and Oct. 2

Where: Bankhead Theater, 2400 First St., Livermore

Box office: 373-6800; www.livermoreperformingarts.org

Price: Adults $39-$74; students 18 and under, $10 off

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