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Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi / Luisi, Netrebko, Garanca

Release Date: 05/05/2009 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 4778031   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Robert GleadowAnna NetrebkoTiziano BracciElina Garanca,   ... 
Conductor:  Fabio Luisi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna SingakademieWiener Symphoniker
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Star singers and star-crossed lovers - a recipe for benchmark bel canto brilliance

Bellini's version of the Romeo and Juliet story - the libretto by Felice Romani is not based on Shakespeare but on an Italian tragedy by Luigi Scevola - has notched up quite an impressive discography considering that is not performed that often. There are fine versions, both on EMI, conducted by Patane(4/76)and Muti(2/95), more recently by Roberto Abbado(RCA,9/98) and Donald Runnicles (Teldec, 2/00), and a year or so ago I reviewed the excellent DVD with Patrizia Ciofi as Juliet (Dynamic, 11/06). This new set, though, boasts three of the most admired singers of the moment, all of them in fine form. The performance is dominated by Elina
Read more Garanca's Romeo; she easily suggests both the swaggering duellist and the lovelorn youth. There are times when her rich, velvety tones sound almost like a soprano, and in the duets with Anna Netrebko's Juliet, the two voices seem naturally to complement each other. The slow section of their Act 1 "Ah, crudel, d'onor ragioni" develops into an almost Norma-like blend of scales and trills.

Netrebko sings the beautiful lament "Oh! Quante volte" with considerable feeling, although the voice is beginning to sound a bit mature now for the innocent daughter of the Capulets. This is all to her advantage in the more tragic Act 2 "Morte io non temo" as she contemplates taking the poison.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi was one of the last important operas to employ a mezzo as the masculine lead. The tenor who sings Tebaldo needs to be of equal strength to balance the drama, and Joseph Calleja rises to the challenge of his two-part Act 1 aria, "È serbata a questo acciaro" with virile strength. The duet in Act 2, when Tebaldo and Romeo are about to fight but then learn of Juliet's death, finds Garanca and Calleja striking sparks off each other; despite the beauty of the final tomb-scene duet, I found this confrontation the highlight of the proceedings.

Robert Gleadow makes a strong impression as Friar Laurence, and Tiziano Bracci is impressive as Capellio. Fabio Luisi leads the Vienna forces in a performance which, though obviously sympathetic to the voices, manages to accentuate the drama. It's certainly a star vehicle but also a satisfying account of Bellini's near-masterpiece, and (much as I love the Patanè) one which now leads the field.

Patrick O'Connor, Gramophone [March 2009]


BELLINI I Capuleti e i Montecchi Fabio Luisi, cond; Anna Netrebko ( Giulietta ); El?na Garan?a ( Romeo ); Joseph Calleja ( Tebaldo ); Robert Gleadow ( Lorenzo ); Tiziano Bracci ( Capellio ); Wiener Singakademie; Vienna SO DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8031 (2 CDs: 127:36 Text and Translation) Live: Vienna 4/2008

DG indicates that this recording was made “Live,” and arkivmusic.com lists the album’s origins as “Live.” Who am I to doubt, so I have indicated “Live” in the headnote. But the total absence of performance sounds and an audience, plus the photos in the booklet make a stronger case that this “Live” (no participants are deceased) recording was made in a concert hall, but recorded under studio conditions. The sonics are very good, the balances are excellent. Best of all, the performance is outstanding. This recording of I Capuleti e i Montecchi is on a par with the best of the competition.

For one of Bellini’s lesser-known works, I Capuleti has been very well represented by major studio recordings and a number of recordings made in performance. There are at least a dozen audio recordings (some appear on more than one label) and two DVDs. Garnering praise include those recordings on RCA (Eva Mei, Vesselina Kasarova, Roberto Abbado), Teldec (Jennifer Larmore, Hong Hei-Kyung, Donald Runnicles), EMI (Janet Baker, Beverly Sills, Giuseppe Patané), and EMI (Agnes Baltsa, Edita Gruberova, Riccardo Muti). For those who prefer a tenor Romeo, Luciano Pavarotti appears in recordings of two productions (both on Opera d’Oro). Of the recordings with a mezzo Romeo, all are studio except for the Baltsa/Gruberova/Muti and the disputed origins of this DG. I find the sonics of the EMI/Muti recording to be troublesome. At a low volume the orchestra seems remote, the singers even more so. Things improve by raising the volume, and your neighbors also get to enjoy the performance!

El?na Garan?a and Anna Netrebko are a noteworthy Romeo and Giulietta. Their voices complement each other, and during those moments when they sing together, the blend of their voices is beautiful. Netrebko has a somewhat darker sound than most of the other Giuliettas on disc, and occasionally Garan?a lightens her rich mezzo, sounding more soprano than other Romeos, but they are never less than convincing in their roles and dramatic commitment. Joseph Calleja has a very distinctive tenor, with a ripple of tremolo that adds interest to his singing. Tiziano Bracci (Capellio) reminded me of Sherrill Milnes, with his rich, creamy baritone. Robert Gleadow makes a strong contribution to the production as the physician Lorenzo (not a Friar, as in Shakespeare). Throughout this recording, I experienced one musical delight after another.

Bellini wrote a rather oddly paced opera. After a rousing opening scene, the high energy is replaced by stretches of arioso leading into arias that exemplify the long melodic lines Bellini is famous for. The exuberance of the opening scene only returns in short bursts during the balance of the work. Some conductors offer too much contrast between the two musical moods, creating the feeling that the opening is rushed, and turning the lyrical moments into lethargy. Conductor Fabio Luisi resists this impulse. He melds the various temperaments of this opera into a work that offers sufficient dramatic contrast without exaggeration.

For readers who are unfamiliar with Bellini’s opera, let me include a short history. The work was written in 1830 for Teatro La Fenice in Venice. It is not based on Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet , but is believed to be based on an early-19th-century play by Luigi Scevola that was inspired by a 16th-century work by Luigi da Porto. Bellini was asked to supply an opera on short notice, when Pacini failed to provide a work for La Fenice. Bellini raided his earlier work Zaira for musical material, an opera that was unsuccessful in Parma, thus turning lemons into lemonade. Bellini assessed the abilities of the available singers and determined the female talent outshone the male, so the role of Romeo was scored for a mezzo, a decision that had the added benefit of conveying Romeo’s youth, and reduced the prominence of roles for male singers. I Capuleti was successful at its premiere, but suffered the fate of many bel canto operas and lapsed into obscurity as musical tastes and styles changed. Bellini’s fortunes enjoyed a rebirth beginning in the mid 20th century with the bel canto revival. Norma, I puritani , and La sonnambula have become the most popular, although I Capuleti and Il pirata are gaining acceptance.

This new DG recording offers a classy performance with an outstanding cast. There used to be four highly recommended recordings of I Capuleti e i Montecchi ; now there are five.

FANFARE: David L. Kirk
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Works on This Recording

I Capuleti e i Montecchi by Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Robert Gleadow (Bass), Anna Netrebko (Soprano), Tiziano Bracci (Bass),
Elina Garanca (Mezzo Soprano), Joseph Calleja (Tenor)
Conductor:  Fabio Luisi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Singakademie,  Wiener Symphoniker
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1830; Italy 
Date of Recording: 4/2008 
Venue:  Live Vienna 

Featured Sound Samples

I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Act I, Scene 2: "Si, fuggire"
I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Act I, Scene 3: "Tace il fragor"

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