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Exalting the human voice: Bellini’s I Capuleti at its best

Opéra Bastille
02/02/2004 -  & February 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 2004
Vincenzo Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Giovanni Furlanetto (Capellio), Ruth Ann Swenson (Giulietta), Daniela Barcellona (Romeo), Tito Beltran (Tebaldo), Giovanni Battista Parodi (Lorenzo)
Robert Carsen (production), Michael Levine (set and costume designer), Davy Cunningham (lighting designer)
Chœurs de l'Opéra national de Paris, Peter Burian (choral director), Orchestre de l'Opéra national de Paris, Bruno Campanella (conductor)

The current run of I Capuleti e i Montecchi at Opera Bastille demonstrates Vincenzo Bellini at his best. Technically polished and emotionally nuanced, the production captures Bellini’s reverence for the voice with an impressive cast and vibrant staging.

Because Bellini aspired to create works with emotional and vocal appeal, some operagoers consider his oeuvre nothing more than a showcase for bel canto. The poet Heinrich Heine even called him “a sigh in pumps and silk stockings,” deriding his supposed hypersensitivity to the less desirable currents of Romanticism. Yet many of Bellini’s ten operas are spacious, proportioned works centered on poised dramas, none more so than “I Capuleti,” with a libretto by Felice Romani and based on works by Luigi Sceola and Matteo Bandello.

Two Italian singers make promising Paris opera debuts: the mezzo soprano Daniela Barcellona as Romeo and the bass Giovanni Battista Parodi as Lorenzo.

Though at rare moments stretched and occasionally strident-sounding on her entrances, Barcellona delivers a tremendous performance, exhibiting both booming power and careful blend during duets with Guilietta and Tebaldo. Parodi is a stirring Lorenzo, his tone infused with compassion and potency that anchors the transcendent quintet.

American soprano Ruth Ann Swenson is an astonishing Giulietta, and her crystal tone, combined with tasteful phrasing and impressive dynamic control, leaves nothing to be desired. She is well supported by Giovanni Furlanetto (Capellio) and Tito Beltran (Tebaldo), who is making a career specialty of the role.

Bruno Campanella, a bel canto specialist, leads the orchestra with charisma and a palpable respect for his singers. He seems to grasp Bellini’s ambition not only for seductive melody but also – unlike his early 19th-century Italian contemporaries – for coherence between libretto and orchestra.

This production, though a visual treat, was not Robert Carsen’s most nuanced staging. Michael Levine’s bold, blood-red costumes are almost overkill, piled on top of high (but acoustic-friendly) walls of the same color. Lighting, by Davy Cunningham, is refined and effective. Overall, and just as the composer intended, the staging echoes the emphasis on the family duel, rather than on the love story, as in Shakespeare’s version.

Not least for opera audiences who feel that Bellini’s pre-Sonnambula work is in need of validation, this is a convincing rendering of one of his most moving scores. Accolades go to this too-oft dismissed composer and a quality ensemble for honoring Bellini’s special melancholy and sublime Romanticism.

Alexandra Day



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