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Katia Ricciarelli - My Favourite Opera
I Capuletti e I Montecchi (excerpts)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice, Venice/Bruno Campanella
rec. 1991
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 [57.49]

The soprano Katia Ricciarelli was born in 1946 and was only twenty-three when she made her professional debut as Mimi in Puccini’s La Boheme 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, Tosca and Turandot 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 Montecchi 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 bel canto 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 and I 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 element 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 disguised (CH.7). 
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. Charles Osborne (‘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 in both Norma, and to a lesser extent in Beatrice di Tenda, his eighth and ninth operas.
 
Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi was eventually 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
 




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