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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
I Capuleti e I Montecchi - lyric tragedy in two acts (1830)
Romeo, head of the Montecchi, in love with Giulietta – Joyce DiDonato (mezzo); Capellio, head of the Capuleti – Alexei Botnarciuc (bass); Giulietta, a young Capulet in love with Romeo but promised to Tebaldo, Olga Kulchynska (soprano); Tebaldo, a Capuleti, Giulietta’s intended husband – Benjamin Bernheim (tenor); Lorenzo, a physician and friend of Capellio – Roberto Lorenzi (bass-baritone)
Chorus of Zurich Opera
Philharmonia Orchestra, Zurich/Fabio Luisi
Director: Christof Loy
Set and Costume Designer: Christian Schmidt
rec. June 2015
Sound Formats: Dolby Digital 5.1 PCM stereo. Dts 5.1
Picture format: 16:9 NTSC
Subtitles: English, German, French, Chinese, Korean
Booklet languages: English, German, French
ACCENTUS MUSIC DVD ACC203563 [139:00]

The story of the Capulets and the Montagues predates Shakespeare and appears to have been derived from an earlier novella. Set in thirteenth century Verona it tells the tragic story of Romeo, a Montague, who loves Giulietta, daughter of Capellio, the leader of a rival faction whose son has been killed by him. Despite Giulietta returning Romeo’s love Capellio determines to marry her to Tebaldo, one of his own faction. Romeo attempts to persuade Giulietta to go away with him but she refuses to leave her family. Lorenzo, the family doctor, persuades Giulietta to take a potion that will make her appear dead. Lorenzo is unable to convey this information to Romeo who, hearing her funeral dirge as he prepares to fight Tebaldo, rushes to her tomb and takes poison himself. Giulietta revives as Romeo dies. She in turn falls dead on his body.

In an appendix to my review of the San Francisco production, also referred to below, I gave details of the composition of the work which I do not repeat here, but which may interest Bellini enthusiasts.

There are two noteworthy audio recordings of I Capuleti e I Montecchi. The first, dating from 1984, features Agnes Baltsa and Edita Gruberova conducted by Muti (review), whilst more recently a Vienna recording featuring Elīna Garanča and Anna Netrebko under Fabio Luisi received a Recording of the Month accolade (review). Regrettably, that duo performed the opera at Covent Garden in a fairly traditional production that was never filmed. The filmed version from the San Francisco Opera in October 2012, like this production featured Joyce DiDonato as Romeo. In my review summary I wrote "One day I hope DiDonato’s interpretation of Romeo will be seen and heard in a sensitive, sensible and realistic production." I very much regret that not only does this production not fulfil that hope; it is an even less worthy interpretation of Bellini’s opera than that from the San Francisco Opera. Updating is the name of the game among many European venues these days even when it regularly means that when the words talk of 'swords', pistols are featured. That in turn means there is no duel scene; pistols tend to finish people off somewhat quicker than a sword duel. Here they fiddle about with pistols for what seems like an eternity of in-action. Added to such incongruities in this production is what I can only refer to as the unnecessary idiocy of the creation of a major non-singing role who follows Giulietta around and even interferes in the action to the extent of mixing and passing poison to her.

With the addition of the extra non-singing role, the setting often focuses on the stage-revolve which is in sections during the opening overture with each section depicting some feature of Giulietta’s and the Capuleti's life-patterns. These include her as a youngster receiving the attentions of Lorenzo in his capacity as a doctor as well as plenty of bloodied dead bodies. The director, Christof Loy, focuses as much on the warfare between the Capuleti and the Montecchi as the passion between the two lovers trying to bestride the warring factions. The former are posh in dress-suits; the latter look like revolutionary ruffians. As can be heard on the CD set with Netrebko and Garanča, the musical side under Fabio Luisi is excellent. Luisi has a feel for the Bellini idiom. He supports the elegiac melodies and the subtle and elegant phrasing of the soloists, or at least those capable of such skills. As Capellio, head of the Capuleti, Alexei Botnarciuc looks, and often sings, like a Mafia godfather. He lacks much variety of vocal tone and nuance as well as much in the way of acting ability. Of the other male singers Benjamin Bernheim exhibited some vocal elegance with a voice that shows promise in that direction as well as strength. As Lorenzo, Roberto Lorenzi is adequate, Bellini's score being sparse in opportunities for him to shine vocally.

The two female singers carry the day in respect of Bellini’s music as well as acted portrayal. Olga Kulchynska, a twenty-four year old Ukrainian soprano, has more than a touch of steel in her expressive voice, sometimes where softness is called for. Nonetheless her vocal and acted interpretation shows significant future promise as well as good quality. As Romeo Joyce DiDonato, as might be expected, is superb. She looks a little small next to her lover and in a tightly fitted formal jacket and trousers. Whatever her appearance, her singing and acted interpretation are outstanding. This can be seen in the love duet with Giulietta and her despair at her seeming death. Hers is a veritable histrionic tour de force and further enhances her formidable reputation as the singing actress of today in the bel canto repertoire.

The presentation of the disc by Accentus Music, not a label I have come across before, has many virtues but also frustrations. A book-type presentation has the DVD inset in the front cover along with a booklet having three articles in three languages and a cast and chapter listing. Two of the three articles are narratives of brief interviews with first the director and stage designer and the second with the conductor. The third brief article, entitled "Bellini’s Audacious Plan for Venice" overlaps the content of the appendix to my review of the San Francisco production, referred to above, regarding the music aspects of the composition and score. On the downside is the lack, in the chapter listing, of any indication of the roles involved or the timings of each chapter. The latter is a particular frustration as my Panasonic Blu-Ray player did not seem to pick up chapter numbers and timings as the disc was being played.

To sum up: this updated production, with an extra silent principal cast-player, does little to showcase Joyce DiDonato’s formidable interpretation of Romeo or the promise of that of the young Olga Kulchynska as Giulietta or Fabio Luisi’s excellent grasp of the bel canto idiom.

Robert J Farr


 

 




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