Seattle Opera’s entry into the Seattle Celebrates Shakespeare Festival is an entertaining if not perfect revision of Berlioz’ Beatrice and Benedict, which is based on the Bard of Avon’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Partnering with Seattle Symphony’s Music Director Ludovic Morlot and ACT Theatre’s Artistic Director John Langs, Seattle Opera’s team devised a new take on Berlioz’ work to better reflect the essence of Shakespeare and his play. Morlot has focused on Berlioz in Seattle Symphony’s current season, and Langs has an extensive background directing Shakespeare.

Berlioz’ intense admiration of Shakespeare led to the composer’s converting the Bard’s Much Ado About Nothing into an opera. Since Berlioz couldn’t fit the entire play into the libretto, he made a number of edits, including ditching Don John and his dark machinations that result in Claudio falsely accusing his faithful love Hero of infidelity. Without that glowering thread, Berlioz’ opera became a purely high-spirited, effervescent look at resisting love, with Hero and Claudio as idealized romantic lovers who maneuver their sparring friends Beatrice and Benedict into falling hard for one another.

Seattle Opera retained Berlioz’ focus while adding back the drama of Don John and the supposed betrayal, which forces Benedict to make a choice between his friend Claudio and Beatrice. That required creating more music to sing: Morlot drew from Berlioz’ earlier music and Langs from the dialogue in Shakespeare’s play.

The structure of Beatrice and Benedict is more like a musical than an opera. As an opera-comique, the work incorporates a great deal of spoken dialogue pulled straight from Shakespeare’s play in between songs. Seattle Opera decided to translate the entire work, written in French, back into Shakespeare’s native English language.

Alek Shrader and Daniela Mack had delectable chemistry on opening night last Saturday as the swaggering Benedict and feisty Beatrice. Initially one-upping each other with clever barbs as comfortably as habit, they displayed a lovely vulnerability as they fall in love. Mack’s dusky mezzo had superb agility and reach, and Shrader had a warmly expansive tenor.

Shelly Traverse was a sweet Hero, in voice and manner, and Craig Verm full of naïvely youthful ardor as Claudio, with a resonant baritone that was particularly moving in his aria swearing vengeance on Hero. Traverse and Avery Amereau as Hero’s maid Ursula delivered an enchanting Nocturne. As Somarone the town constable, a role created by Berlioz, Kevin Burdette supplied an over-the-top humor reminiscent of Shakespeare’s fools. 

Morlot and his orchestra were in fine form, serving the exacting score with virtuoso finesse. The chorus had some gorgeous moments, particularly at Hero’s grave.

While the opera was enjoyable, it felt just shy enough of either humor or drama to fully engage my companion for the evening and me. And, much as we love Shakespeare, we also love our dialogue in an opera to be sung — arguably a completely personal quibble.

Langs’ staging used Matthew Smucker’s reworking of Robert Dahlstrom’s three-story set of stairs and doorways, originally designed for I Puritani, to good effect. Yet its immensity seemed to dwarf the relationships onstage, which didn’t feel big enough to fill the space. Connie Yun’s lighting did nicely complement the action.

Although Deborah Trout’s costumes were delightfully colorful, her mix of eras was distracting:  As new costumes came onstage, we caught ourselves trying to determine in what time period this Beatrice and Benedict was supposed to be set.

Seattle Opera’s “Beatrice and Benedict” plays at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall (321 Mercer St.) through Saturday, March 10. Prices range from $25-$199. For more information, or to purchase tickets, call 206-389-7676, or visit

MAGGIE LARRICK is a freelance writer, who lives in the Seattle area.