New tenor boosts Lyric’s “Romeo et Juliette”

Sat Mar 12, 2016 at 1:34 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Eric Cutler is singing Romeo in Lyric Opera's final performances of Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette." Photo: Daniel Kleiter
Eric Cutler is singing Romeo in Lyric Opera’s final performances of Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette.” Photo: Daniel Kleiter

The final performances of Lyric Opera’s Romeo et Juliette are getting a lift from a new tenor.

Eric Cutler is singing the role of Romeo for the final three performances of Gounod’s grand opera, and in his first outing Friday night proved an outstanding addition to Bartlett Sher’s lively and atmospheric production.

The strapping tenor made a dashing counterpart to Susanna Phillips’ Juliette. His tenor is of a darker hue than that of Joseph Calleja, who opened in the role, yet has impressive power and agility. At times one would have liked a smoother legato and less choppy phrasing, but Cutler sang with greater security than Calleja in the high tessitura, throwing off clarion top notes. Dramatically, Cutler was exceptional, aptly passionate yet conveying a more rounded and conflicted hero.

The rest of the season-closing show remains in place with the same strengths and weaknesses. As Juliette, Susanna Phillips continues to pass on the highest notes, muting the essential coloratura brilliance of the role. Yet the soprano does make an attractive and undeniably likable Juliette–albeit overdoing the girlishness at times Friday night. She brought dramatic power to the potion aria and with Cutler made the full tragedy of the tomb scene effective and moving (though having Romeo stab Juliette at her urging remains a bizarre directorial conceit).

The large supporting cast continues to be excellent, the singing of the Lyric Opera Chorus first-class, and Emmanuel Villaume’s magnificent conducting provides a virtual seminar in how French opera should be performed.

Romeo et Juliette runs through March 19.; 312-827-5600.

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