Vocalist - Soprano
Playing Juliet, from light to dark
Audrey Elizabeth Luna stars as Juliet opposite George Dyer's Romeo.
Audrey Elizabeth Luna stars as Juliet opposite George Dyer's Romeo.
FL Morris
And so, when Shakespeare knocked out what he called "The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet," interestingly, Romeo's name was printed in much larger letters than Juliet's. Later, feminists were incensed that Juliet's character was so dependent on the whims of males, such as Friar Lawrence and Romeo himself. Reviews of Baz Luhrmann's moderne pastiche "Romeo + Juliet" cattily noted that Romeo's Leonardo DiCaprio was prettier than Juliet's Claire Danes, whilst further indignity is heaped upon the classic romantic tragedy by Disney's "High School Musical" mutation, an infant-formula edition by way of "West Side Story."

Young love. First love. Filled with true de-vo-otion. Young love. Our love. We share with deep e-mo-otion. And Juliet is half the story, even though she largely pines as Romeo gets to strut and swordfight. And she's stuck up there in the balcony too, alas.

Even so, Juliet is one of the most recognizable and iconic of female roles, if not exactly a role model. Hawaii Opera Theater director Karen Tiller predicts there won't be a dry eye in the house during their production of "Romeo and Juliet" this week, and she may be right. The tale has lasted this long, and has survived Broadway, Hollywood and the Catholic Church, and so has embedded itself in our pop consciousness, like a tapeworm of ready-to-please plotting.

Charles-Francois Gounod himself borrowed heavily from Shakespeare as he composed his "Romeo and Juliet" opera. "Many of the beautiful words are taken directly from the play," said Audrey Elizabeth Luna, who essays the part of Juliet in HOT's production. (It's a good thing Gounod copped to this, as the composer had a tendency to challenge critics to duels.)

Although she has an affinity for 20th-century composers, Luna is comfortable in the rococo classical world of high drama and sweeping arias. She prepared for Juliet by seeing "every movie ever made on the subject. She's a 16-year-old girl, coming out for the first time, a bit light-hearted. Even though the part is often cast on looks, you've got to bring the power to the role, as it changes from light to dark at the end.

"Once I absorb all that, then I must do my own interpretation, my own take. With every new production, every Juliet is different, even as they're all the same character."

HOT's take is "pretty traditional," notes Luna. "The set, naturally, has a balcony. And we're doing Juliet's second aria, which some productions skip because it's pretty heavy and dramatic. But hey, it's opera! You gotta act!"

Her previous experience playing Juliet was with the Pittsburgh Opera, and that "was kind of dark. It was a gangster production, pretty morbid. Juliet was a cutter in it, slashing her own skin. Very Goth!"

Luna's mother noted the girl's talent "at a fairly early age ... 2 to 3 years old," and soon had her practicing violin, flute and ballet as well as voice. By the time she was a teenager, Luna "veered off into voice, as that seemed the best path."

And opera was the best fit for her soprano coloratura. "It was safer in the classical world," she says. "There was too much belting in traditional musical theater" -- using the term for hammering home dramatic emotions by intensifying the voice -- "and Mozart, I think, wrote for me! And I'm a run-of-the-mill coloratura, but I can also do the heavy stuff, the Strauss, the queen-of-the-night" dark range. And I can do Juliet!"

Not only that, Luna's "marrying a local boy in June, Jordan Shanahan, who's from Hawaii. We met in Santa Fe."

A Romeo?

"Oh, he's a big, ol' Verdi baritone. Not much call for a big baritone and a coloratura to sing together, except in 'Rigoletto' -- and I'd have to play his daughter!"
Burl Burlingame, Honolulu Star-Bulletin
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