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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Vivica Genaux – Romeo
Valentina Farcas – Giulietta
Davide Giusti – Tebaldo
Fabrizio Beggi – Lorenzo
Ugo Guagliardo – Capellio
Belcanto Chorus
Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi (conductor)
rec. Teatro Flavio Vespasiano, Rieti, Italy, September 2014
GLOSSA GCD923404 [72:13 + 47:29]

Even those who know Europa Galante might get a bit of a shock when they hear this recording. For those of you who don't, brace yourself!

Giving Bellini's Romeo and Juliet opera to Fabio Biondi's Badboy band was always going to be a controversial step, and I imagine Biondi must have enjoyed being given the opportunity to reimagine Bellini's score from the inside out. Whether the rest of us will enjoy it, however, will very much be a matter of taste. You will have a very good idea of where you stand by the end of the Sinfonia. Goodness me! It's not just lightning-fast tempi that you'll have to contend with but, more seriously, a deliberate abrasiveness to the sound that is actually quite alarming at first. Even more than the raspy edge of the strings and brass, Biondi uses a fortepiano with a particularly metallic clang to it, giving a tinkly clatter to the score which is never far from the surface, and that's especially present throughout most of the less gentle moments of the opera. True, you get used to it after a while, but I didn’t want to have to! Furthermore, I didn't really buy Biondi's self-justification in the booklet notes (it's more than double the length of the musical essay and reads like an apologia) and throughout this set I couldn't shake the suspicion that he was setting the cat among the pigeons for its own sake.

There are some definite gains to the period orchestra, particularly in the instrumental obbligati, which are mostly delightful. I loved, for example, the sound of the natural horn that precedes Giulietta's first scene. The harp in her first aria is rather beautiful, and the cello in the prelude to Act 2 is lovely, though the clarinet that precedes Romeo's scene with Tebaldo sails dangerously close to the wind in places. Furthermore, the recitatives are sometimes made more immediate by the restrained tone of the strings. However, this is undoubtedly an interpretation that will polarise listeners and it's neither for newcomers nor for those seeking a first choice.

The singing is pretty good. Vivica Genaux is a thrusting, masculine Romeo, whose bluster is improved by having Europa Galante's rough-edged sound to offset her. By contrast, Valentina Farcas' Giulietta is richly feminine and very beautiful (despite some unattractive sobbing in her Act 2 scene with her father), and you don't mind that she would never pass muster as a teenage girl. Davide Giusti is an energetic, virile-sounding Tebaldo, and both elder basses are satisfactory if not exactly inspiring.

Make no mistake, though: this is a release that stands or falls on the merits of its orchestra and conductor, and you'll need to decide for yourself whether that's for you. Give me Roberto Abbado with the Munich Radio Orchestra any day. Caveat, emptor!

Simon Thompson



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