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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835)
I Capuleti e i Montecchi

Opera in two acts
Giulietta…Guisy Devinu(soprano)
Romeo…Anna Caterina Antonacci
Tebaldo…Luca Canonici (tenor)
Lorenzo…Francesco Musinu (baritone)
Capellio…Giacomo Prestia (bass)
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro del Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli/Angelo Campori
Recorded at Napoli 7th March 1995 and remastered DDD
WARNER FONIT 8573 87485 [CD1: 78.58 CD2: 49.13]

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This opera should be sub-titled 'The Environmentally Friendly Opera': so much of it is re-cycled work. The libretto is by Felice Romani. He had previously written the libretto of Giulietta e Romeo for Nicola Vaccai’s opera. When Vaccai was less than forthcoming with payment for a later libretto, Romani happily plundered his earlier plot for this version for Bellini. He wrote out one character, kept another alive to the end and abbreviated the finale. Bellini, not to be outdone, raided his less than successful opera Zaira and his first work Adelson e Salvini for parts of the music. Speed was the essence / excuse. Six weeks was the time allowed Bellini by La Fenice which had been let down by Pacini who could not deliver his new opera on time.

This live recording by the Orchestra and Chorus of San Carlo, Naples adds poignancy because of Bellini’s education and graduation there. Sadly I do not think that he would be pleased by the result.

Many have written that orchestration was not Bellini’s strong point (which I shall not debate here); but orchestral support is important for his soloists with the strong melodic line and intense involvement in the emotions of the characters. On this recording there appears to be lacking an immediacy to the music. Also there are important occasions when the orchestra seems to overwhelm the singers rather than underpin them.

Romeo is a mezzo-soprano role. Anna Caterina Antonacci refuses to be "boxed in the confines of a register" (Nick Fishbone on her Website). It is not fundamental, but it is curious, particularly when her high notes sung forte lose tonal beauty if not ascending to the almost shrill. That is a disappointment after her soft singing of that gloriously classic Bellini aria Asclota. Se Romeo with warm tones emphasising the emotional plea to Capellio to forgive the slaying of his son.

Giusy Devinu sings Giulietta. Her opening aria bemoans her unhappy fate (betrothed to Tebaldo; loving Romeo) and whilst it is full of vocal expression and sweetness of tone, her diction appears to blur. That said it is one of the high points of the production: a fact recognised by some serious audience applause.

Luca Canonici (himself a strong admirer of José Carreras) sings Tebaldo. His is not the most powerful or expressive voice. I found it difficult to hear the vocal joy in L’amo, l’amo tanto ed è sì cara (sic). However as the opera progressed, so did Canonici such that by the last scene there are some good tonal variations.

Neither Giacomo Prestia (Capellio) nor Francesco Musinu (Lorenzo) are vocal powerhouses and are no match for the orchestra that occasionally lose their words for them. Each sang their role competently but without getting into the skin of their characters.

The accompanying booklet provides the libretto (no translation/pagination), a turgid and non-idiomatically translated opera commentary but with a clear English synopsis. It points to the key element of Lorenzo’s failure to tell Romeo of the drug (not poison) taken by Giulietta and Capellio’s restriction on Lorenzo preventing subsequent communication. Sadly on the CD I cannot hear any of Capellio’s instructions at the end of the first scene of Act II: to find Tebaldo, spy on Lorenzo and, crucially, to restrict Lorenzo’s movements. As the libretto indicates, this is sung to his courtiers after Lorenzo and Giulietta have left. It may be that in this production it forms part of the ensemble at the end of the scene; it may be that it came over in the theatre; but it is not clear on the CD.

The opening belonged to Vaccai, so let him have the last laugh. That great bel canto singer Maria Malibran thought Bellini’s concluding scene did not provide her with sufficient opportunity to show her skills: so for the later production in which she appeared she had substituted Vaccai’s ending for that of Bellini.

This recording clarity is not the best. In the opening scenes all seem too far from the microphones. The sound is not as good as we have come to expect on Warner Fonit. Whilst the audience applause reminds us of the opera house itself, unfortunately so does their irritating coughing (in Act II) worse on this CD than any I have heard recently.

Robert McKechnie

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