Bellini I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Such are the purely aural delights of Bellini’s version of the Romeo and Juliet story – based on an earlier, more straightforward telling of it than Shakespeare’s – that seeing it on Blu ray might not be the most pressing requirement for a bel canto fan. Certainly, Vincent Boussard’s production doesn’t do a great deal to emphasise or clarify the drama. Christian Lacroix provides some preposterous costumes: for the wedding party, the men, dressed in extravagant tails and top hats, resemble Victorian conjurors, while the women seem all to have been dragged backwards through a box of especially colourful offcuts. The main feature of Vincent Lemaire’s set is a dirty-grey box, variously lit, to which he adds a washbasin for Giulietta’s room (she clambers on to it for half of ‘Oh! Quante volte’), riding saddles dangling down from above in the opening scene, and broad stairs upstage for the wedding.
Arguably, though, Boussard’s direction doesn’t really get in the way. But it is undoubtedly eccentric, with the interaction between hero and heroine kept cool and abstract in a confusing final scene – Giulietta stands up while still asleep; Romeo stays standing when he dies. Much else is bizarrely choreographed but the leading couple nevertheless manage to convey their emotions persuasively: DiDonato, in particular, knows how to act in this repertoire.
She also, of course, knows how to sing it, imbuing her lines with elegance and urgency, musicality and, when needed, bravura. She’s deeply touching in the final scene, even if I find the timbre short on richness, while the fast, fluttery vibrato can risk overburdening some of Bellini’s purer vocal lines. The blend with Nicole Cabell’s Giulietta is not ideal, either, and the soprano’s richness of tone and slightly bendy way with the notes is different to what we often hear in the role on disc.
There’s nevertheless a lot to be enjoyed from these two heartfelt central performances, matched by decent support from a forthright Saimir Pirgu (Tebaldo) and an implacable Eric Owens (Capellio). Riccardo Frizza conducts straightforwardly but stylishly. If you can overlook the sometimes baffling production, this is recommendable as a well-presented, modern video version of the piece.