A World “Re-Premiere” of Beatrice and Benedict at Seattle Opera

Opera goers are no stranger to Shakespeare. From Rossini’s Otello to Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and many, many more, Shakespeare has served as the basis for some of the world’s favorite operas. Never before, however, has there been such a complete melding of play and opera as in Seattle Opera’s current production of Berlioz’s opera Beatrice and Benedict. This is a project two years in the making between Seattle Opera’s General Director Aidan Lan, ACT Theatre’s Artistic Director John Langs, and Seattle Symphony’s Musical Director Ludovic Morlot. They have taken Hertor Berlioz’s opéra comique Béatrice et Bénédict and it’s inspiration, William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, and merged them, along with a few additions of some of Berlioz’s other works, to make a completely reimagined work of art.

The act opens on victorious soldiers being welcomed back enthusiastically to the picturesque Sicilian estate of Leonato. Our young ingenue, Hero, anxiously awaits the return of her beloved, Claudio as her wiser and ever so much more jaded cousin Beatrice is more than ready to resume her long standing war with her verbal sparring partner Benedict. Hero and Claudio are eager to wed one another while Beatrice and Benedict both swear to remain eternally single. Claudio, Hero, Leonato and their friend Don Pedro decide that Beatrice and Benedict are just asking for it so they all conspire to trick the sworn bachelor and bachelorette into falling madly in love with each other. With all due respect to their sworn love of the single life, getting Beatrice and Benedict to fall for one another doesn’t take much.

In the midst of all this madcap fun, Don Pedro’s bitter brother Don John and his accomplice Borachio (in a plot point Berlioz did not write into his original opera) plan to sabotage the entire affair. They lie to Claudio and defame Hero and all seems doomed. The truth eventually prevails, of course, and both of our couples get to have their happily ever after and Don John gets what’s coming to him.

By adding in much of Shakespeare’s original dialogue in addition to reinserting the darker elements of the plot, the audience is treated to a more complex and richer theater going experience than a traditional opéra comique would provide. This also requires much more of the performers and boy, are they up for the challenge. Singing the title roles of Beatrice and Benedict we have Daniela Mack (sung on alternate performances by Hanna Hipp) and Alek Shrader (sung on alternate performances by Andrew Owens). The couple has an electric chemistry from the moment they are together onstage. Mack is entirely captivating and moving. Her voice is rich and beautiful and she wields it with an assuredness and confidence. Shrader is dashing and rakish and tackles the slapstick physical comedy like a true pro. He has a powerful tenor voice that is at once commanding and easy. In a triumphant return to the Seattle Opera stage after a magnetic performance in Così fan tutte is Craig Verm singing Claudio. He navigates the dramatic turns required in this reimagined production deftly and manages to retain his luscious baritone voice even as he plays the impulsive and moody young lover.  Rounding out our set of couples as the charming Hero, is Shelly Traverse who was plucked 42nd Street-style from the chorus when Laura Tatulescu fell ill. Traverse is light and innocence personified on stage. Her voice is dazzling and clear and she is effortlessly delightful.

One of the major upsides of this brilliant marriage of straight theater and opera is the addition of John Langs as Stage Director. Langs brings a fresh perspective to the opera stage and, along with Deborah Trout’s vibrant and luscious costumes and Matthew Smucher’s dynamic set design, the results are gorgeous and invigorating.

Beatrice and Benedict is performed in English with English captions. It is at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall through March 10, 2018. For tickets and more information visit https://www.seattleopera.org/.

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