Review: UK Opera Theatre’s Romeo et Juliette

Gregory Turay as Romeo and Julie Ladouceur as Juliette in the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre's production of Romeo et Juliette. © UK Opera Theatre photos by Tim Collins.

See the show: Romeo et Juliette is the first broadcast on the iHigh Alltech Arts Network. Click here to see the performance reviewed. Click here for the live stream of the 2 p.m. Oct. 23 performance.

Photo gallery: The Oct. 23 and 28 cast of Romeo et Juliette.

Romeo is this young guy who wants to hang out with his pals and has a thing for the prettiest girl in town.

Juliette is that girl, and she wants to embrace all the passion and joy she can in the springtime of her life, especially if it’s in the arms of a dreamboat like Romeo.

It’s too bad their fine romance runs headlong into a family feud that may only be rivaled by the Hatfields and the McCoys.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a very well-known, well-worn story that is so familiar it’s easy to look right through it.

The first time I saw Charles Gounod’s operatic take on the play, the production did just that. It was very stylish, sumptuously sung and so emotionally vacant I remember just looking at my companion when the curtain fell and saying “let’s get some coffee.”

Romeo et Juliette or any other manifestation of the story should not leave an audience that indifferent.

Julie Ladouceur as Juliette.

Director Stephanie Sundine’s production for the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre sure doesn’t.

Thanks in large part to her stars, Gregory Turay and Julie LaDouceur, the story is infused by an emotion familiar to many of us: That passion of first real love that truly does make parting such sweet sorrow. From their first flirtatious glances and laughs to their last moments in each other’s arms, Turay and LaDouceur let the audience know this love means everything to their characters and the chance they could be together in death is more appealing than living without each other.

They are helped along by Gounod’s gorgeous music and the libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carre that puts the focus on the love story.

And in Turay, LaDouceur and the rest of the cast, UK and Sundine have people that can really sing this stuff.

Gregory Turay as Romeo.

Turay has never sounded better on a Lexington stage as he has matured into a smooth, rich tenor voice ideally suited to a romantic lead like this. And he is beautifully paired with LaDouceur, their four duets blending with passionate clarity.

Juliette isn’t just listed in the program first to be polite. As substantive as Romeo’s part is, this is Juliette’s opera, and LaDouceur nailed every highlight including the coquettish Je jeux vivre and harrowing Amour, ranime mon courage, aka The Poison Aria. Lexington audiences have seen LaDouceur grow the last couple years as she earned a masters at UK. Now in the doctoral program, she has established herself as the leading lady of UK Opera Theatre. Let’s enjoy her while we can.

This production is double cast, and Turay and LaDouceur will perform again Oct. 29. The other cast, featuring Manuel Castillo and Rachel Sterrenberg in the title roles, performs Oct. 23 and 28.

This production also highlights UK Opera Theatre’s current depth with strong showings throughout the principal cast, particulary Reginald Smith Jr. as Capulet, more clueless than menacing as he is in the play, and Michael Preacely helping give substance to Romeo’s status as one of the guys playing the best friend, Mercutio.

Capulet (Reginald Smith Jr.) rushes to aid Tybalt (Luther Lewis III) who has just been fatally struck by Romeo's (Gregory Turay) sword.

As Tybalt, Luther Lewis III highlights the story’s dramatic turn between carefree youth and really bad blood, coming across as a gregarious guy in his first scene until the sight of Romeo flips a switch, and he is filled with a hate and rage as unreasonable and unyielding as Romeo and Juliette’s love.

It’s another facet of this production that says this is a case of youthful passions gone tragically awry.

The drama plays out on Richard Kagey’s marvelously simple set that shifts from balcony, to church to tomb and other formations with a minimum of prop changes.

Saturday night’s opening night performance had an event-like air, pretty much packing out the Lexington Opera House.

It was the sort of opening night deserved by this production that succeeds where it is so easy to fail.

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