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BELLINI: I Capuleti e i Montecchi (2016)

BELLINI: I Capuleti e i Montecchi (2016) 

You might want to pass this one up…

Performers: Chorus & Orchestra of the Zurich Opera House/  Joyce DiDonato, Olga Kulchynska, Benjamin Bernheim, Roberto Lorenzi/ Fabio Luisi (cond.)/ Christof Loy (stage director)/ Franck Evin (lighting designer)
Studio: Accentus Music [9/30/16]
Length: 139 min.
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 screens, color
Audio: DTS-HD 5.1, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: English, German, French, Japanese
Ratings: Audio: ***    Video: *** 

One hopes the best for productions of Vincenzo Bellini’s operas, especially—unlike his Norma and il Puritani—the ones out of the repertoire. They still have marvelous music in them. I Capuleti e i Montecchi (1830) is his take on the famous story of Romeo and Juliet, quite different in plotting from Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette (1867). (A contemporary reviewer called Gounod’s opera “always pleasing, though seldom impressive.”) Bellini’s version shimmers like a silver medallion given at an opera-writing competition. Bellini was just establishing his bel canto style and it shines on through. Cast as a “trouser role,” mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato does a splendid job as an indignant and feisty Romeo, more acting than acted upon (unlike Gounod’s Romeo). Olga Kulchynska’s Giulietta is marvelous in several notable arias: her romanza “Oh! Quante volte, oh! Quante” in which she expresses her longing for Romeo is what Verdi meant by Bellini’s “long, long, long melodies.” And her aria after she takes the fake poison, “Morte io non temo, il sai,” has some of the saddest lyricism I’ve heard since Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (1774). The finale to Act I (“Se ogni speme e a noi rapita”), an ensemble dispute between, well, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, dabbles in an inventive contrast device, employing the male with the female voices to marvelous effect.

However there are problems with this production, although they are probably more the result of poor judgment than lack of talent. Someone didn’t question the lighting designer’s (Franck Evin) underexposed shots. The resulting scenes are not “moody,” just difficult to see. No one overrode the stage director’s (Christof Loy) decision to insert an androgynous silent character (Gieorgij Puchalski), who lurks behind Romeo and Giulietta. Is she a death symbol or what? And worst of all, there was little (or no) discussion about renting body mics for the shooting. As a result, the sound is cavernous and echoey, a fallback to the old days.  Lines drop like spilled ducats. You might want to pass this one up and spring for the version done by the San Francisco Opera two years ago (Amazon No. B00MP0SZ1Y). It still has Joyce and she’s marvelous.

—Peter Bates

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