Washington National Opera performs ‘Romeo & Juliet’ at Kennedy Center

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Romeo & Juliet' at Kennedy Center (Part 1)
Adam Smith plays Romeo and Justin Austin plays Mercutio in the Washington National Opera's "Romeo & Juliet" at the Kennedy Center. (Courtesy Scott Suchman)
It’s the most tragic tale of star-crossed lovers ever told.

This month, the Washington National Opera is performing “Romeo and Juliet” at the Kennedy Center through Nov. 18.

“It’s a very real story,” Lead Actor Adam Smith told WTOP. “It remains popular and will always remain popular because it’s based on human instinct, it’s based on human nature, the idea of wanting to be together with someone. Humans are theoretically not meant to live alone. The old idea of humans is they come together.”

Based on William Shakespeare’s classic 1597 play, the iconic story unfolds in Verona, Italy, where young lovers Romeo and Juliet fall in love despite the violent, tribal mindsets between their respective families and sworn enemies, the Montagues and Capulets. The story unfolds in five acts, each just as famous as the next.

“You have Act 1, which is the masked ball; Act 2, which is the very famous balcony scene,” Smith said. “Act 3 is in two parts, one you hear before the interval, one after the interval, the first is where Romeo and Juliet get married, the second is where the fight happens between Mercutio and Tybalt. … Act 4 is a mix of Romeo & Juliet together for one last night … Then Act 5 is in the tomb where Romeo thinks Juliet is dead.”

The opera was written by Charles Gounod in 1867 with a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré.

“It’s fascinating, heartbreaking, destructive yet happy, there’s so many emotions, an absolute plethora of emotions,” Smith said. “The music is just absolutely divine. It is some of the best French grand opera that you could possibly listen to. … It’s effortlessly romantic. It’s so overwhelming if you allow yourself to feel it. … You can come to the show and have no experience with opera and simply appreciate opera at its finest.”

Smith gets to belt these songs with Rosa Feola as Juliet, together forming a duo that carries the show.

“It really is the two characters, they do so many scenes together and it’s so crucial to have a partner on stage that you can actually really create something special with,” Smith said. “I’m very lucky because I have Rosa Feola, an Italian soprano. We get on extremely well, we have a good chemistry, we work really well together and she’s an incredible singer as well, so it’s been incredible to work with Rosa.”

The supporting cast includes Justin Austin as Romeo’s best friend Mercutio (think of him as Tony’s pal Riff in “West Side Story”) and Duke Kim as Juliet’s cousin Tybalt (think of him as Maria’s brother Bernardo).

“The two of them are fantastic,” Smith said. “[Austin] is electric to watch on stage, he’s incredible and we’ve created a nice bond — you have to with these productions because there are fight scenes in the middle of the opera and you have to be really comfortable with your cast. … We have a wonderful tenor, Duke Kim, playing Tybalt. They’re the two focal points because what happens to them, their demise moves the show forward.”

Listen to our full conversation here.

Find ticket information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews WNO's 'Romeo & Juliet' at Kennedy Center (Part 2)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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