Arts & Events

Husband-Wife Duo Pene Pati & Amina Edris Sing Romeo and Juliet

Reviewed by James Roy MacBean
Saturday October 05, 2019 - 05:14:00 PM

Tuesday, October 1 felt like a family affair at San Francisco Opera. What made it seem a family affair was not just that the husband-wife duo of Pene Pati and Amina Edris were singing the lead roles this one night only in Charles Gounods Roméo et Juliette. It was also that our local audiences have watched these two young singers emerge from the Merola and Adler Fellow Programs, then move on to grace the big stage of the San Francisco Opera. We have heard tenor Pene Pati and soprano Amina Edris many times over the past six years. We have noted that they met in 2016 when both were Adler Fellows. We have noted that they married later in 2016, and we have heard them sing countless times, individually, and, occasionally, together. But to hear them sing the roles of Romeo and Juliet, based on Shakespeares immortal young lovers, was something special, something like, well, a family affair for all of us, and a cause for celebration.

Their story is heart-warming. Pene Pati is a Samoan-born tenor who became a New Zealand citizen. Amina Edris is an Egyptian-born soprano who also became a New Zealand citizen. And they met as Adler Fellows in San Francisco. In this citys multi-cultural milieu, this husband-wife duo is a testament to what we hold dear. On October 1, in hearing Pene Pati and Amina Edris sing Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco audiences could bask in the warmth of this family affair. And the superb singing of Pene Pati and Amina Edris just reinforced this spirit of a family celebration. 

Of course, in assuming the role of Juliet for one performance only, Amina Edris was following a tough act. Superstar soprano Nadine Sierra sang this role beautifully in the first six performances this season. However, Amina Edris held her own. Her soprano was radiant, her technique awesome, her French diction superb; and in singing opposite her husband, Amina Edris brought an intimacy to her performance that was incomparable. Likewise, as Romeo Pene Pati delivered a performance that subtly brought out the intimacy of this husband-wife duo. At the close of the balcony scene in Act II, Pene Pati lowered his voice to almost a whisper; and the intimacy of this moment was palpable.
Whereas Shakespeare found innumerable ways to keep Romeo and Juliet apart, Gounod brings the lovers together as many times as he can. They sing four love-duets, each one advancing the trajectory of their love, from their first, meeting when they tentatively begin to feel out their attraction to one another, to their open avowals of love in the balcony scene; and from the thraldom of their wedding night bedroom scene in Act IV to their gradual acceptance of a mutual death in one anothers arms at the close of the opera.  

With a fine libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré from Victor Hugos French translation of Shakespeares play, Charles Gounod composed music that subtly matches the magic of Shakespeares way with words. Even the loversplayful disagreement in the nuptial bedroom scene over whether the bird-call heard is an alouette/lark announcing daybreak, (and their moment of parting), or a rossignol/nightengale, the confidante of lovers, makes a poignant reappearance in the tomb scene when the dying Romeo relives their supreme moment of marital bliss.
In hearing Gounods Roméo et Juliette for the second time in nine days, I appreciated how fine an opera this is. Details I neglected to mention in my review of the September 21 performance now deserve recognition. In Gounods overture, there is a brilliant mini-fugue; and in pondering why this music is there I realised that a fugue with its counterpoint is a perfect expression of the counterpoint in the relationship between Romeo, a Montague, and Juliet, a Capulet. Musically, they transcend the enmity between their families; and they do so in a flight from their pernicious reality, in short, they engage in a mutual fugue.
Also, I must mention how brilliantly sung by baritone Lucas Meachem was the Queen Mab aria, in which Mercutio teases Romeo for taking seriously a bad dream he had the night before. Further, I must credit director Jean-Louis Grinda and his associate Vanessa dAyral de Serignac for having Romeos page, beautifully sung here by debuting Stephanie Lauricella, punctuate her taunting aria by delivering a vivid Italian insult salute to the Capulet palazzo. This gesture was perfect for this situation. I might also mention that the Opera Chorus under Ian Robertson performed nobly throughout Roméo et Juliette. And, finally, in musing over a question that has always puzzled Shakespeare scholars, namely, the failure of Friar Lawrence to inform Romeo that when he goes to the tomb where Juliet lies on a funeral bier, she is only sleeping off a potion that simulates death; I came up with the following. Perhaps Friar Lawrence, to save his own hide from the fury of the Capulets if they learned of the Friars potion-plot, refrained from telling even Romeo in order to protect his own plausible deniability.