But much of the music is! And here too there’s a great quartet at the beginning of the last act for Maria, her father, her lover, and her sister. Music director Gil Rose led this with a sense of fluid legato line, and the four singers — soprano Barbara Quintiliani (who had a major success in this role two years ago at the Wexford Festival), big-voiced mezzo-soprano Laura Vlasak Nolen, tenor Adriano Graziani, and baritone DongWon Kim — all rose to the occasion.
Quintiliani has one of the great bel-canto voices before the public, but she also suffers from debilitating illnesses, including, as she herself has made public, multiple sclerosis, and now a newly diagnosed autoimmune disorder, which constantly threaten her stamina and demand contradictory medications. She evidently had to leave the dress rehearsal after only one act, and the first performance found her with dicey high notes (she didn’t attempt the even higher unwritten ones) and occasional pitch problems. There was all-around poor coordination among Quintiliani, Nolen, and the orchestra in a duet that should have brought down the house. Reports have it that she was on fire for the two ensuing performances.
Quintiliani wasn’t helped much by Alexander Lisiyansky’s spatially amorphous unit set or the staging by Julia Pevzner, who did such inspired, detailed work for Opera Boston with Shostakovich’s The Nose a couple of seasons back. Here, Pevzner stuck with stock operatic poses, and kept plunking Quintiliani unflatteringly down on the stage floor, from which it was painfully awkward for her to arise. And yet at her best, even opening night, especially in the later acts, and despite the primitiveness of her acting, Quintiliani’s gilded, clarion tones blossomed into the voice of a true diva.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra ended its disjointed season with a luscious masterwork, Berlioz’s gorgeous “symphony” with chorus and solo voices, Romeo et Juliette. Charles Dutoit conducted, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus was back on track, half Montague, half Capulet. Dutoit understands this music’s arcs of melody that never stop when you expect them to and keep you hanging on every phrase. My one disappointment — and I hope this isn’t an ominous sign for the future — is that the seating plan James Levine took such pains to maintain, with the first and second violins on opposite sides of the stage rather than all crammed together, was gone, and the thick sound of the massed violins was not helpful to the soloists.
Stuck way over stage right, where I could barely see them from my good first-row balcony left (“BLT”) seat, warm-hearted, warm-voiced mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink, sang Berlioz’s eloquent narrative with the most memorable tune in the piece, which the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sang the last time the BSO did Romeo. Fink held her own in this most difficult of all comparisons. And tiny, characterful tenor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt was the perfect Mercutio. Dutoit didn’t always keep the lid on the volume, so the soloists were sometimes hard to hear. In the least compelling music, some coordination problems arose between stolid baritone Laurent Naouri (Friar Laurence) and the orchestra. The orchestra won — despite that regressive seating plan, playing with suave conviction.