Katia Ricciarelli - My Favourite Opera
I Capuletti e I Montecchi
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice, Venice/Bruno Campanella
Stage Director: Pier Luigi Pizzi
Picture format: 16:9
Sound format, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Languages: English, Italian
EUROARTS DVD 2001838
The soprano Katia Ricciarelli was born in 1946 and was only
twenty-three when she made her professional debut as Mimi in Puccini’s
in Mantua in 1969. Winning a major Verdi competition gave
jet propulsion to her career. She was soon heard all over the world in major
houses in Verdi lyric soprano roles graduating to the distinctly spinto
territory of Aida
with which she
left behind the limpid beauty of her earlier years. I was therefore
initially surprised that she chooses Giulietta in I Capuleti e I
as her favourite opera as a performer as it is generally
considered best suited to a lighter coloratura voice. On CD the names of
Gruberova (see review
) and, more recently, Anna Netrebko feature (see review
). In fact, before the malign influence of
certain conductors and opera-house Intendants, Ricciarelli excelled in the
repertoire and in this Bellini opera in particular.
The present film is based on a 1991 production at Venice’s La
Fenice directed by Pier Luigi Pizzi. Views of Venice’s ever-beautiful
waterfront and canal (CH.1) are complemented by both the exterior and
interior of La Fenice. The majestic interior of the theatre is in the very
best Italian tradition. It was tragically destroyed by fire a few years
after this filming (CH.3) and not rebuilt for nearly ten years. With the
sets seen being winched from a canal and erected in the theatre (CH.6)
Pizzi’s austere use of space is very evident in a traditional
production. Also interesting are the preparations of the traditional
costumes and hair-pieces (CH.8).
Much of the content is concerned with rehearsals and major excerpts
from the production with only a little devoted to Ricciarelli and her life.
Born in poor circumstances in Rovigo in the Veneto her comments on her
marriage to television presenter Pippo Baudo are interesting and perhaps it
is hardly surprisingly it was dissolved in 2004 and by which time she had
achieved some stage success (CH.8). In 2003 she became Artistic director of
the Macerata Festival.
A striking blue-eyed blonde Italian, Ricciarelli is certainly a good
actress when singing. This is evident in her acted commitment throughout the
several excerpts. This is very important in this opera with its many
interactions between the participants and particularly between Giulietta and
Romeo. It come notably to the fore when Romeo takes poison and dies as
Guilietta comes to after her drug-induced coma (CH.13). Romeo is sung, and
also acted with particular conviction, by British mezzo Diana Montague.
Ricciarelli cannot disguise her age (CH.4), but she sings throughout with
dramatic conviction and involvement if lacking something of the ideal vocal
flexibility demanded by the role. In the excerpts we do not hear her in the
work’s high-flying coloratura passages, rather the focus is on the
drama. In respect of voice types and this opera, I recall that Pasta sang
all three demanding leading roles in Norma
, Il Pirata
Capuleti e I Montecchi
in London in 1833, so it is not wholly unusual
for a bigger voice to be appropriate.
The conversations with Pizzi and the conductor Bruno Campanella are
particularly interesting. Campanella insists on the bel canto
being allowed full measure by demanding that the orchestra do not drown the
singers (CH.2). Meanwhile some of the tensions of rehearsals are not
I Capuleti e I Montecchi
was the sixth of Bellini’s ten
operas. The story predates Shakespeare and appears to have been derived from
an earlier novella. It certainly suits Bellini’s artistic
sensibilities. Pressures of time on the composition gave Bellini the
opportunity to use music from his failed Zaira.
(‘The Bel Canto Operas’, Methuen, 1994) suggests that Bellini
recycled nearly half the music from Zaira
into his new opera.
Straight plagarisations were much too risky and Bellini worked hard at
adapting the old music, much of which underwent major changes of structure
and key. He also used several other melodies from Zaira
and to a lesser extent in Beatrice di Tenda,
and ninth operas.
Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi
premiered, a little later than planned, on 11 March 1830. It was an
immediate and immense success and was performed eight times in the ten days
left before the end of the season. After the third performance a huge crowd
preceded by a military band playing music from his operas conducted Bellini
to his lodgings. The opera opening the Carnival Season at La Scala, on 26
December 1830 and was seen twenty-five times during the season. It quickly
spread elsewhere in Italy and abroad.
As well as providing several generous excerpts this film gives
interesting insight into a production of a bel canto
work involving a
leading soprano of the time and her colleagues.
Robert J Farr