The Shoals is home to a wide array of musical talents, ranging from jazz and the blues to the music of local Native Americans. What better to add to the diversity of the area than a classical opera production? From Nov. 4-6th, during two evening and one matinee performance, University of North Alabama’s Department of Opera and Musical Theater will proudly present French composer Gounod’s arrangement of Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet. Staged and directed by UNA music department’s Dr. Tiffany Bostic Brown, the performance will be a modern retelling of the classic Shakespearean tragedy.
Double casting was done for each lead role, with Mark Anderson and Alex Wasson alternately playing the role of Romeo Montague, alongside Gabrielle Fuqua and Maria Sullivan each taking on the role of Juliet Capulet. This version of Gounod’s work has been translated into English from the original French script. The entire crew has been tirelessly preparing for their demanding roles since late May when auditions were held and casting announced.
Upon the initial excitement of being cast, the leads subsequently spent the summer memorizing their roles and preparing themselves mentally for the characters they are to play. When school started in August, each lead was expected to be mostly off-book, and began working privately with Bostic-Brown on their blocking, characterization and vocal delivery.
Bostic-Brown recognizes the ever changing world we live in, and has a vision of allowing opera to grow, change, shift and evolve with the times in order to remain relevant to younger audiences.
Bostic-Brown understands that “opera can be daunting and hard to understand at first, even admitting it was an acquired taste for herself in the beginning.”
However, once she began training in opera and learned to appreciate the difficulty of the work and the intricacy of the composition, Bostic-Brown developed a strong appreciation and eventual love for the world of opera. She hopes this passion will be evident to the audiences who come to see the final product shaped by her direction.
Lead roles are given to vocal majors, so opera has generally been previously included in their upper level vocal classes. Becoming classically trained in opera is challenging, and takes time, but can be highly rewarding as well. An ensemble cast of 27 Montagues and Capulets provides accompaniment during several pivotal scenes.
An operatic ensemble operates slightly differently from a typical chorus. Members of the ensemble are encouraged to be fairly vocal and maintain individuality within their vocal delivery rather than making an effort to blend as a unit as a traditional chorus would tend to do. This distinction adds colorful texture to the overall sound.
According to Gabrielle Fuqa, playing Juliet, characterization was among the most challenging parts of the production for her. At times, Fuqua claims that she found it very difficult to understand or relate to what Juliet’s intentions are.
“Juliet is so youthful and naive when encountering Romeo. I feel that empathizing with this difficult character eventually became an excellent way for me to delve deeper within my own psyche,” she said. “As well as another’s and examine what Juliet’s actions can teach us about human nature as a whole.”
Within a matter of minutes, Fuqua had me convinced that I had been missing a deeper, more central lesson of Romeo and Juliet all along. In Fuqua’s interpretation, the tragic love between Romeo and Juliet is only tragic due to unreasonable circumstances entirely created by Montagues and Capulets, the tale’s two feuding families. Because of their senseless division and hatred for one another, several characters lose their lives.
“In this way, the story makes a greater statement about the repercussions of enabling a divisive society as a whole.”
“By ignoring history and remaining divided, senseless violence will always continue,” Fuqua said. “By analyzing the story through this broader angle, Fuqua was at last able to empathize with Juliet’s character, and settle in her character to shape her vision of how Juliet would really carry herself.
Set in a timeless “Black Box” style setting in George Lindsey Theater, the staging is to be minimalist, yet beautiful according to Bostic-Brown.
“In the interest of staying contemporary, the costumes are to be very modern in comparison to traditional opera garb. The show is divided into three acts, running roughly an hour and a half total,” Bostic-Brown said.
Due to the success of the last production, Into the Woods, expectations are high for a sold-out box office. Performances will be Friday, Nov. 4, and Saturday, Nov. 5, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 6, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Tickets are available at una.edu/music, at the Lindsey Theatre Box Office (M-F, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.), and at the door.