Although Gounod’s setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” used to be performed almost as routinely as his now ever-more-popular “Faust, ” the work fell out of grace somewhere along the way in the States, though it remains an audience favorite in Gounod’s native France. It remains, along with Bellini’s “I Capuletti e i Montecchi” and Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” one of three remaining music settings of the Bard’s most popular play that are still being performed though there have been dozens of settings that are now long forgotten. One of the problems that Lyric faces in mounting the Gounod version is that the amazing performances of real-life husband and wife Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghui and French-Sicilian tenor Roberto Alagna seven years ago set such a memorable and high bar for these roles: the two not only sang incredibly, but acted as if their honeymoon were still in full swing as the star-crossed lovers. By contrast, we never really buy that Russian soprano Dina Kuznetsova and Wilmette tenor Matthew Polenzani are really in love, nor are they able to sing love duets convincingly given that Kuznetsova’s large and beautiful soprano voice so consistently overpowers Polenzani’s beautiful but diminutive tenor sound. Not helping matters is conductor John Mauceri who pulls out the stops on the Lyric Opera Orchestra so loudly and gracelessly that poor Polenzani is often drowned out to operatic oblivion. Perhaps Italian tenor Massimo Giordano, scheduled to take over for the Dec. 12, 16 and 19 performances will better be able to hold his own. (Dennis Polkow)
Sat & Tue/7:30pm. Civic Opera House, Wacker Drive at Madison, (312)332-2244. $31-$179. Through Dec 19.