You know the story — but not like this. From Thursday to Sunday, the School of Music, Theatre and Dance will present Charles Gounod’s opera, “Roméo et Juliette,” at the Power Center for the Performing Arts. Shakespeare’s classic tragedy is brought to life by the students (in the School of Music) both onstage and in the pit.
Director Paul Curran, who has directed operas at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and Royal Opera House in London (to name a few places), was brought in to direct “Roméo et Juliette.” He chose to set this particular production of Romeo and Juliet in the late 1950s.
“He has this concept that the ’50s were a transition from a very conservative time into a very liberal time, which goes along with the story of Romeo and Juliet: the power of peace and love against hatred,” said Mulder, a second year Masters student in Vocal Performance who plays Juliette. “He really wanted to bring out that aspect of how the time and the community affects the lovers.”
Mulder, who was a Young Artist at the Ash Lawn Opera Company in Virginia this past summer, said the entire experience at the University is one of the most professional settings she could ever imagine.
“Martin Katz, who’s conducting the opera, is one of the world’s most famous collaborative pianists,” Mulder said. “The costume department, the production department, the stage management team — everything is so well-oiled and well running, and the orchestra just sounds pristine.”
Darius Gillard, a second year Doctor of Musical Arts student in Vocal Performance, plays the part of Romeo.
“I’ve had a handful of professional roles, and honestly, the production here is on an extremely high scale,” Gillard said.
The production is filled with suspense, excitement and fight scenes: a special fight choreographer was brought in to coach the cast members on how to correctly perform combat on stage.
“It was a fantastic experience,” Gillard said on receiving combat coaching. “The knives are made out of steel, so any wrong choreography could lead to someone getting painfully jabbed. Thankfully, we had a fight choreographer to help us put that together, which was amazing.”
“Since we’re using knives, it all has to be really precise,” Mulder added. “The fight scene is really intense.”
The cast rehearses for six hours a day — both a huge time commitment and physical undertaking.
“We began rehearsing the first week of school — we had our first rehearsal the first day of classes. The whole process took about nine weeks,” Mulder said.
Approximately three hours long, there are two intermissions throughout the duration of the performance. “Bring a snack!” Mulder advised.
The opera is performed in French, and there will be supertitles above the stage.
“I encourage everyone to come and see it even if you have no experience with foreign language because we have supertitles that are in English — you will know what is happening all the time,” Mulder said.
“This performance is a very real, honest reflection of life,” Gillard said. “It’s a reflection of people at their most human — at their best and their worst — and it also tells a story of how to work past differences. It teaches a lesson about how prejudice can destroy you.”
Mulder said she believes people should come see the opera because of the story’s power.
“We forget so often how much damage hate can do, and we forget the importance of acceptance and tolerance in our communities. In the world we live in today, it’s really important to always think about that, and think about how choosing love instead of hate is the better choice. I really do think that the story — now more than ever — is important for people to understand why they need to accept those who are different from them,” she said.
When asked if there were any other modifications made to this version of Romeo and Juliet, Gillard said: “There is something that’s different — but I don’t want to give it away! You will absolutely know it when you see it.”