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S & H Opera Review

Bellini I Capuleti e I Montecchi English National Opera at the Barbican Cond: Richard Bonynge, 10th October 2003 (CC)

This performance was in the Barbican Theatre, whereas the recent Thaïs had been in the Concert Hall. The change of acoustic brought with it, initially, a truckload of fears: the sound space did not seem to help the orchestra at all in the overture, highlighting its weaknesses. A shame, as right from the start Richard Bonynge, completely at home here in the bel canto repertoire, showed a wonderful sense of timing. As one’s ears became accustomed to the sound, it became clear this evening had the potential to be very special indeed.

Although based on ‘Romeo and Juliet’, this is not the celestially entwined couple of Shakespeare. Bellini’s librettist, Felice Romani, used Italian sources for the opera. It is important not to castigate the work for this and instead to see it in its own right. The other aspect of the work perhaps in defiance of expectations is that the two principal parts are both taken by women (soprano and mezzo: Romeo was written for Bellini’s leading mezzo, Giuditta Grisi). As it happens, the latter element was just as well on the present occasion, for the female singers far outshone the male voices.

Sarah Connolly’s Romeo established itself right from the outset. Proud and powerful yet capable of great emotional affect, Connolly sang with great lyricism. Her voice was strong over all registers and in addition she managed to get to the drama behind the notes.

Juliet enters in the second scene, alone in her apartment. It was easy to believe this Juliet’s distress, as Dina Kuznetsova poured out her emotions in a stream of melody and coloratura that was a joy to hear. The horn soloist was just as impressive, the melody beautifully shaped and full of commendably clean slurs. It is later in this scene that we hear the titular couple together for the first time, and it was immediately apparent that they work perfectly together, Connolly capable of thrilling affirmation (‘Si, fuggire’), Kuznetsova of truly beautiful sounds. Throughout all this, the orchestra subtly provided the dramatic impetus. Pacing was spot on. The climax of the opera in Act 2 of course centres on these two characters, and they did not disappoint. Connolly was heart-rendingly searching, Kuznetsova hardly less so (perhaps even more worthy of praise as she had to sing lying flat on her back!).

The discrepancy between female and male standard became obvious in Act 2 Scene 2, when Romeo is pitted against Tebaldo (Rhys Meirion). There was no comparison. Connelly brought silence to the audience in just one line; Meirion was merely a singer from the Valleys who happened to have wandered on-set.

Brindley Sherratt as Capellio was the only male voice of real note. Graeme Danby’s Lorenzo was mainly notable for the fact that the voice was acceptable, the acting a complete zero.

It would be good to see a full staging of this opera. Still, the close resonates in the mind for long after the actual end of the opera.

Colin Clarke

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