Wednesday, 4 September 2019

A passionate evening: Bellini's I Capuleti ed I Montecchi

Bellini: I Capuleti ed I Montecchi - Flora McIntosh, Chiara Vinci - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Lida Crisafulli)
Bellini: I Capuleti ed I Montecchi - Flora McIntosh, Chiara Vinci - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Lida Crisafulli)
Bellini: I Capuleti ed I Montecchi; Chiara Vinci, Flora McIntosh; James Ioelu; Anthony Flaum; Pauls Putnins, dir: Lysanne van Overbeek, Kelvin Lim; Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 2 September 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Bellini's Tragedia Lirica at the Grimeborn Festival

Bellini: I Capuleti ed I Montecchi - Flora McIntosh, Chiara Vinci - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Lida Crisafulli)
Bellini: I Capuleti ed I Montecchi
Flora McIntosh, Chiara Vinci
Grimeborn Festival (Photo Lida Crisafulli)
I Capuleti ed I Montecchi is a Tragedia Lirica in two acts by Vincenzo Bellini with a libretto by Felice Romani. In their version the ill-fated lovers, from the Capulet and Montague families, are members of opposing political factions, the Guelphs and Ghibellines. Romeo, the Montecchi leader, has killed the son of his rival Capellio. Giulietta is betrothed to Tebaldo but is already smitten with Romeo. Defying their households for love, Romeo and Giulietta meet their tragic fate.

Over the years assumptions have been made about the imputed influence of Shakespeare on Bellini’s work. Amongst the other more likely contenders credited with being the main source of inspiration Matteo Bandello is most often cited, including by Romani’s wife. But Romani and Nicola Vaccai’s own Giulietta e Romeo for Milan was based on a play of the same name by Luigi Scevola written in 1818. The tomb scene from Vaccai’s opera has on occasion been used in Bellini’s.

In any event the opera's gestation was hurried. Bellini was in Venice to prepare a production of Il Pirata, when he was given notice that the contract for a new opera would fall to him. Writing it for the available singers, and ruthlessly ‘rescuing’ and reworking music from the poorly received Zaira, it is not the best of Bellini. Structurally it feels unbalanced and lacking in characterisation. The dramatic impetus is controlled by the men with precious little talk of love. The best music goes to the women albeit one en travesti.

So, whether, as a popular entertainment, you can ignore its weaknesses and appreciate its uncomplicated storytelling is a matter of personal taste as much as the quality of its performers. T
he performance of Bellini's I Capuleti ed I Montecchi at the Arcola Theatre on 2 September 2019 was presented by Over the Pond as part of the Grimeborn Festival in a production directed by Lysanne van Overbeek. The star-crossed lovers were sung by Flora McIntosh and Chiara Vinci. Capellio and Tebaldo were James Ioelu and Anthony Flaum. Pauls Putnins was Lorenzo. Piano accompaniment was by Kelvin Lim.

The production began with a simple enough premise.
A woman sits in a room reading a book when the story comes alive around her and she is swept up in the tale. The book is of course Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It was certainly tempting fate to impose such a contrivance on to a libretto that simply won’t take the weight. That aside, it’s all about Bellini’s trademark ‘melodie lunghe, lunghe’, and there was plenty of fluid elegance in evidence if occasionally it veered towards the passionate rather than the subtle.

A velvety toned Flora McIntosh made much of Romeo’s youthful and impetuous ardour. Chiara Vinci’s Giulietta was poised and tender, a picture of fragility and despite all the talk of honour and cruelty in the act 1 duet ‘Si, fuggire’ they brought plenty of tenderness to their conflicted emotions. All the singers were at their best when showing a little more textural subtlety. The hushed tones of the act 1 quintet were a model of musical restraint. Given that the gentlemen’s roles are so underwritten they did a fine job of delivering the necessary orotund machismo. A passionate evening, for sure, but definitely not Shakespeare.

Bellini: I Capuleti ed I Montecchi - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Lida Crisafulli)
Bellini: I Capuleti ed I Montecchi - Grimeborn Festival (Photo Lida Crisafulli)
Bellini: I Capuleti ed I Montecchi
Over the Pond
Monday 2 September 2019
Arcola Theatre
Grimeborn Opera Festival
Giulietta : Chiara Vinci
Romeo : Flora McIntosh
Capellio : James Ioelu
Tebaldo : Anthony Flaum
Lorenzo : Pauls Putnins
Musical Director : Kelvin Lim
Director : Lysanne van Overbeek
Movement Director : Michael Spenceley

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