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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 - Clara Polito (soprano); Capellio, head of the Capuleti - Federico Sacchi (bass); Giulietta, a Capulet in love with Romeo - Patrizia Ciofi (soprano); Tebaldo, a Capulet, Giulietta’s intended husband - Danilo Formaggia (tenor); Lorenzo, a physician and friend of Capellio - Nicola Amodio (tenor)
Bratislava Chamber Choir
Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia/Luciano Acocella
rec. open air, Ducal Palace, Martina Franca, 31st Festival Della Valle D’Itria, August 2005
Director, set and costume designer: Denis Krief Video director: Marco Scalfi
Sound formats: dts Digital Surround, Linear PCM 2.0.
Picture format: 16:9 Letterbox
Subtitles: English, German, Italian, French, Spanish
Booklet languages: Italian, English, German, French
DYNAMIC DVD 33504 [136:00]

After the disaster of his fifth opera, Zaira, composed under undue pressure of time for a commission he felt he could not refuse, Bellini took a long holiday with his lover. This was before returning to Milan in June 1829 to meet various theatre impresarios. Alessandro Lanari, who worked in association with Venice’s La Fenice theatre wanted to introduce the composer to the city. He would have liked to commission Bellini to write a new work for the forthcoming Carnival Season commencing on 26 December 1829. However, this was not possible as Persiani and Pacini had already been commissioned. Aware that Pacini had accepted a commission from Turin, and may not fulfil his obligations to Venice, he also offered an understanding that if Pacini did not deliver, Bellini would be invited to fulfil the commission with a new work. Ever alert, Lanari offered a revival of Il pirata under the composer’s personal supervision for January 1830 knowing that Bellini would be his fall-back position.
 
Il pirata was given to acclaim on 16 January 1830 by which date Pacini had failed to turn up. Given that his opera was scheduled for the last week in February Bellini signed a contract on 20 January to fill the gap. With the carnival season ending on 22 March time was short for both the composer and his usual librettist Romani and each took short cuts. Romani revised and simplified a libretto titled Giulietta e Romeo that he had previously written for Nicola Vaccai and which had been staged in Milan in 1825. There were barely six weeks to the premiere and Bellini also took short cuts. The story suited Bellini’s sensibilities and also he saw, perhaps, an opportunity to use music from the 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 plagiarism was much too risky and Bellini worked very hard to adapt the old music much of which underwent major changes. This extensive re-use of music from Zaira helps to explain why Bellini never sought to revise the earlier work. He also used several other melodies from Zaira in both Norma, and to a lesser extent, in Beatrice di Tenda.

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 was seen twenty-five times at La Scala, and elsewhere in Italy before quickly spreading abroad. The performance recorded here features the edition presented at La Scala to open the Carnival Season on 26 December 1830. To accommodate the singers available this involved the casting of the two sopranos who were available to the theatre as Romeo and Giulietta. Since that time, experiments made with casting a tenor in the role of Romeo have given way to the original and now standard casting of a mezzo-soprano in the role of Romeo. In the other two filmed versions of the opera the role is sung by Joyce Di Donato (review 1 and review 2).

In my reviews of the two other filmed versions referred to, I wrote that the one given at the San Francisco Opera in 2012, had been the first filmed and issued of the opera and repeated the statement in the second review. Subsequently a reader mailed MusicWeb International to correct my error, pointing to the present filmed version. My error was of memory, as I had previously referred to it in my review of all the ten operas of Bellini on CD issued by Dynamic (review) and which uses this recording as its audio choice for this opera. My two earlier reviews have now been amended and I thank the correspondent concerned.

In my comments on the two other recordings I expressed the hope that Joyce Di Donato’s consummate portrayal of Romeo would sometime be recorded in a traditional production, as both of those in which she has appeared are updated versions. I did hope, in receiving this version, that a more traditional setting would be the case as I am irritated by updates that contradict the text and in this case affect the duel scene in particular when the opponents talk about drawing swords and proceed to pull out pistols. Consequently they never face up to one another (Act 2 Ch. 7), merely meandering around the stage seemingly avoiding any contact. Along with rather strange lighting effects at the start of act two (Ch.1), and the casting of two sopranos, the role of Lorenzo is sung by a tenor rather than the baritone of the more normal version, I can find no reference to denote if this was an aspect of the La Scala version or the circumstances of this production in either Osborne’s essay or in Stelios Galatopoulos’s biography of Bellini ("Bellini, Life, Times, Music", Sanctuary Music, 2002)

The story of the Capulets and Montagues predates Shakespeare and is believed to have been derived from an earlier novella, Osborne (ibid p.329) suggests Masuccio Salernitano as the originator. Set in thirteenth century Verona the opera tells the tragic story of Romeo, a Montague, who loves Giulietta, daughter of Capellio, 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 faction. Romeo attempts to persuade Giulietta to go away with him but she refuses to leave her family. Lorenzo 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. Giulietta revives as Romeo dies. She in turn falls dead on his body.

The performance is played in the open air in the Ducal Palace in Martina Franca at the 31st Festival Della Valle D’Itria. The historical setting is sometimes undermined by a low plain backstage, but otherwise is excellent and totally appropriate. The director uses some film overlays that differ from what the audience see and the whole is recorded in 16:9 letterbox aspect, the first time I have come across that practice which adds nothing to the performance and I assume was determined by technical considerations.

The staging at Martina Franca was presented, I believe, to showcase Patrizia Ciofi, reigning diva at Venice’s La Fenice in the role of Giulietta. She gives an outstanding interpretation in this her first assumption of the role, one that brings tears to the eyes. Youthful in appearance the tessitura holds no fear for her and she is able to bring out the full range of emotions in her vocal and acted characterisation, her costuming being acceptable in both acts, in the second wearing the wedding dress seen on a static mannequin in act one. As Romeo Carla Polito is fully up to the vocal challenges of the music, being only hindered in her realisation of the role by rather feminine features. As Tebaldo, Giulietta’s husband as chosen by her father, Danilo Formaggia would have benefited from a traditional costume rather than this updated version where he cannot disguise his receding hairline or a roundish figure. He sings acceptably except for the odd strained top note. As Capellio, Federico Sacchi has the requisite physical stature and reasonable vocal sonority. The tenor Lorenzo, Nicola Amodio has an appealing tone and vocal capacity for expression, but is a little lacking as an actor. The setting of the Ducal Palace in Martina Franca would have been ideal in a traditionally costumed production.

On the rostrum Luciano Acocella has an easy way with Bellini’s melodies and lets the music breathe with the emotion of the words. The chorus play their part with musicality and sonority.
 
Robert J Farr

 




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