I Capuleti e i Montecchi, A Different Romeo and Giulietta from Opera in the Heights

Enrique Carreón-Robledo isn't bragging when he says that both of the two alternating casts of I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets and The Montagues), the latest production by Opera in the Heights, are excellent. (It isn't bragging if it's true, right?) "It's very easy to say when you have two casts that there is no first, there is no second cast. But in this case, I really mean it. I have no reservations you can see either cast and I know it will be first rate," says Carreón-Robledo, artistic director for Oh!, which won the nod as Most Improved Company in the 2012 Houston Theater Awards last August.

"I could talk about how some voices are more lyrical than others, or how some personalities are more dramatic than others," he says. "If you analyze each one of the performances, then yes, you will be able to pinpoint some differences. But the total result, I am confident, will be the same. [Both casts will] capture the audience and make them live this beautiful story through the music Bellini wrote for it."

All of the main cast members in this production are making their role debuts. Camille Zamora and Julia Ebner appear for the first time ever as Giulietta (Shakespeare's Juliet), while Sarah Heltzel and Brandy Lynn Hawkins take on the trouser role of Romeo. Yes, you read that right, Sarah and Brandy Lynn will be Romeo.

"That's the way Bellini intended the role to be," Carreón-Robledo tells us. "It's to give the impression that this is a very young man, young to the point that the voice isn't low enough to be a tenor and at the same time mature from every standpoint. This is not the typical Romeo. In this case, Romeo is not the young boy that is just another member of the family. He is the leader. He is presented as a full-fledged soldier that has incredible authority and maturity."

Carreón-Robledo, who was profiled in our 100 Creatives series, says he understands the pitfalls of women singing men's roles, especially of  allowing the voice to sound too feminine. "These two singers, they are both mezzo-sopranos, are really fantastic in that sense. It's hard sometimes to accept that a woman is playing a man, but in the realm of sound, which is where this opera lives first and foremost, they have each done an excellent job at impersonating a young man."

In Bellini's version of the star-crossed lovers, not only is Romeo stronger and more mature, Giulietta is more aware what their love will cost both families. "She is not the fragile 14-year-old; this is a young woman of character," says Carreón-Robledo. "You see a Juliet that is completely in love, yes, but she is also aware that her love can cause a lot of political turmoil. There is a very rational side to her, which is somewhat different than the character we see in Shakespeare. Of course, in the end, she chooses love, but you see, especially in the first act, how she has this tremendous struggle between her feelings for Romeo and her duty to her family."

I Capuleti e i Montecchi is the second production is an Oh! season based completely on Shakespearean stories. A moving Otello, which our critic D. L. Groover called "electrifying" opened the season last month; productions of Macbeth and Falstaff will soon follow). It's an example of the innovative, if sometimes risky, programing Carreón-Robledo has brought to Oh! since he joined the company last year.

Opera in the Heights presents I Capuleti e i Montecchi through November 18. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. November 18. Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights. For information, visit the company's website or call 713-861-5303. $10 to $55.

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