As Juliet once famously asked from her balcony, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” This question will be answered in multiple ways on Saturday at the University of Michigan Museum of Art when the School of Music, Theatre & Dance presents “The Romeo and Juliet Project,” an opera collage concert inspired by the museum’s newly built balcony space in the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and Frankel Family Wing.

The Romeo and Juliet Project

Saturday at 7 pm
UMMA
Free Admission

“Project” is composed of selections from four interpretations of William Shakespeare’s famous play, including Charles Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette,” Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” and Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”

Clinical assistant professor of opera in the School of MT&D Joshua Major, who is producing the “Project” and directing the musical pieces, said working on the concert made him see “that there are many ways to interpret the story.”

“It is very interesting to see the different musical points of view that the story inspires,” he said. “There are eight scenes from different operas, all different and moving in their own way.”

Jennifer Goltz-Taylor, curator of the crossover series and music theory lecturer, puts things in motion for “Project” after the museum’s expansion and restoration project was completed in 2009.

Goltz-Tayor said that she was inspired to feature the brand new structure in the iconic balcony scene in “Romeo and Juliet.”

With the help of Lisa Borgsdorf, UMMA’s manager of public programs and campus engagement, Goltz-Taylor began to conceptualize the performance, which is part of a larger series of about 10 concerts for which UMMA has teamed up with the School of MT&D.

“We are dipping our toe into the theatrical,” she added.

Borgsdorf and Goltz-Taylor feel that the balcony area is an excellent facility that enhances the multi-interpretational nature of the show.

“We don’t have space custom built for performance, but our spaces can make things interesting in unique ways. Sometimes your weaknesses turn out to be your strengths,” Borgsdorf said. “The apse provides different kinds of opportunities, in terms of the experience, than a music hall.”

Though the apse may not be sonically up to par with the famous acoustic perfection of Hill Auditorium, Goltz-Taylor still feels it can be an inspiring venue.

“It’s far more visually stimulating and dynamic with the shapes and the lines and everything than a concert hall, which is more acoustically and visually focused,” she said.

According to Major, who has not participated in an UMMA event for many years, the unique apse presents challenges.

“The challenge (as director) is getting all eight scenes to work in a space that is unfamiliar and without the usual resources of a theater.”

Borgsdorf also acknowledged the challenges of putting together the show in the new space.

“To be able to create concerts that draw from exhibitions, you need talented, flexible people who are willing to take chances,” she said.

These talented, flexible people are graduate voice majors, who will perform on Saturday in front of what should be a diverse audience.

“There’s a real intergenerational audience with lots of students, not just music students,” Borgsdorf said of the other performances in the crossover series.

One of the goals for the performance is for each person to take away their own interpretation of the beloved Shakespeare play.

“ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is kind of a pop-culture phenomenon that has wide appeal,” Borgsdorf said.

“Normally, we see a story told from one point of view from beginning to end, and with ‘Romeo and Juliet’ there have been many different points of view for how to tell that story, but still we see it from one of those points of view from beginning to end,” Goltz-Taylor said.

“When we talk about all the ways you could stage or understand ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ understanding how those points of view interact is largely an intertextual experience,” she added. “With a collage we get to have an intertextual experience within one telling of the story.”

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