Tuesday 25 November 2008

Review of Bellini's 'I Capuletti e i Montecchi'

Orpha Phelan's production of Bellini's I Capuletti e i Montecchi for Opera North[Nottingham Theatre Royal, 22nd November] opened with a drop, curtain apparently of metal, inscribed with a huge target and pockmarked with bullet holes. During the overture, the chorus, in contemporary costume, assembled slowly and passed through a secret door in the drop curtain.

When the overture finished and the drop curtain rose we were in a space. The opera's setting remained stylishly unspecific, almost abstract. For Act 1 the playing area was a triangle of parquet flooring, surrounded by dark. For the first scene a chandelier was added.

It was apparent that this was to be a contemporary version of the opera. Capellio (Nikolay Didenko) was some sort of gang leader, perhaps Mafia, perhaps Irish. Didenko had the physique for the role but I felt that Opera North could have found a more subtle singer closer to home. His supporters, both male and female, were all be-suited thuggish types. Lorenzo (Henry Waddington) was the decent doctor, ministering to Capellio's clan.

Edgaras Montvidas as Tebaldo stood out in his leather overcoat; he stood out also because he is tall and slim, relatively rare for a tenor. Montvidas, a Lithuanian, was a Young Artist at Covent Garden and is now at Frankfurt Opera. He is a Pollione rather than Nemorino and should easily encompass the Duke in Rigoletto. As Tebaldo he was, perhaps, a little more vigorous than was desirable, nudging the role closer to Verdi than was perhaps desirable. But he looked so good, sounded good and shaped the role so well that it hardly seemed to matter.

Sarah Connolly's Romeo, when he arrived, was dressed in a white linen suit. Women are tricky to dress in men's suits and, frankly, designer Leslie Travers attempt for Connolly wasn't flattering. As in her recent Octavian for ENO, Connolly looked a little too mature but sounded fabulous. She captured something of Romeo's impetuousness and youthful ardour.

For Giulietta's first scene a matching triangular glass and metal structure descended, to create a very striking stage image. Reflected in the glass could be seen vague images of Capellio's guards, guarding Giulietta. Marie Arnet's Giulietta was discovered lying on the floor. I gradually warmed to Arnet's Giulietta, but initially her voice seemed a little uncertain. In the upper register it's vibrato gave it a quavery feeling, rendering the voice fragile and uncertain. To a certain extend this could have been to give the character naivety and uncertainty. But fioriture in music of this period needs to be sung with a firmness of voice that Arnet seemed to lack. This was a shame as she beautifully conveyed Giuletta's fragility and her toughness. She was especially good in the scene where Giulietta refuses to flee with Romeo because of her family honour.

Just before Giulietta was due to be married to Tebaldo, Phelan turned the chorus into Giulietta's dream/nightmare - a Giulietta double was manhandled by her father's men and by Tebaldo. In some ways this was an apposite touch, but unfortunately Phelan's drama seemed to find more violence in the piece than was portrayed in Bellini's music. But for much of Act 1, the violence jarred with the music; the people described in Bellini's music are not as rough and uncouth as those that Phelan and her cast created. This was a shame, because much of the staging was thoughtful and effective. For the quartet, Phelan had the chorus act in tableaux, the soloists moving to interact with them as in a dream, then returning to their places at the front of the stage.

But in Act 2 something happened to Bellini's music and to Phelan's production. For much of Act 1 Bellini had raided earlier operas with the result that the piece is fluent but not always striking or moving. Act 2 he wrote from scratch in his new flexible style. Phelan's production similarly transformed itself. The act opened in the aftermath between the two sides. Travers's barely representational set from Act 1 had been transformed into a stunning abstract frozen explosion. Violence behind her, Phelan's production flowed effortlessly and beautifully. Her staging of the final scene was simple and moving, supporting strong performances from the principals.

Marie Arnet's Giulietta will never be my favourite; one or two fluffed notes indicated that she might not have been on the best form. But her Giulietta was touching and moving, fragile and tough. Her singing was nicely phrased and, whilst I found her vocal quality a little too fluttery, she displayed a good feel for Bellini's touching music.

She was ably complemented by Sarah Connolly's stunning Romeo. Connolly combined Romeo's youthful posturing and impetuousness with a seriousness of purpose (both dramatic and musical) with a lovely feeling for Bellini's musical line. The feeling for line which she brings to Handel, helped transform her shaping of Bellini's romantic arioso into something special. How about a Chandos Opera in English recording of this opera.

1 comment:

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