VACCAJ Giulietta e Romeo
The ordering of the names might give a clue: like Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Nicola Vaccaj’s Giulietta e Romeo (1825) takes the story of the famous star-crossed lovers from sources other than Shakespeare. The basics are the same but the fateful final scene is differently prepared. Felice Romani’s libretto for Vaccaj (1790-1848) concentrates more on the feuding families (with the tenor Capellio doing plenty of rabble rousing) in its exposition than on the burgeoning romance between the two title-characters: they’ve long since met by the time we first see them together on stage some 45 minutes into the first act.
Vaccaj, awkwardly situated in musical history between Rossini and the bel canto duo of Donizetti and Bellini, is a very fine composer and this release (the second audio recording and the first filmed version) reveals Giulietta e Romeo – the only one of his operas not to have fully sunk into obscurity – to be an excellent, highly effective piece. There are echoes of Rossini in some of the busy early ensembles, and Bellini’s Capuleti comes to mind in some of the elegant vocal writing, as well as the horn solos (though here it’s Romeo who has one to introduce his Act 2 aria ‘È questo il loco, ella qui posa’). But much of the score, as well as the work’s far from conventional formal design, seems to look forward to Verdi.
Here it also receives a performance that does it justice, generally better sung and more sensitively conducted than Bongiovanni’s previous release, recorded in 1996. Cecilia Ligorio’s production on the broad outside stage of Martina Franca’s Palazzo Ducale has some superfluous touches – extras roam the early scenes in wolf masks, for example – but tells the story clearly, shifting between scenes cleverly. And she brings out some wonderful performances from a terrific leading couple. Raffaella Lupinacci’s characterful, fruity mezzo is matched by detailed and lively acting, and Leonor Bonilla brings a bright, elegant soprano and oodles of charm to Giulietta. I defy anyone not to find their tomb scene deeply moving – down as much to their excellent performances as to Vaccaj’s score.
The rest of the cast is more than decent, with Leonardo Cortellazzi singing powerfully as Capellio, even though the character’s unlikely swing to remorse in Act 2 represents one of the work’s weaker moments. Veteran soprano Paoletta Marrocu offers a touching star turn as Adelia, Giulietta’s mother. There’s plenty of fine playing from the Orchestra Accademia Teatro alla Scala under conductor Sesto Quatrini, who clearly believes in the work. Give this excellent release a go (either on CD or, even better, on DVD or Blu ray) and I’d imagine you will too.