Notes and Editorial Reviews
I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Riccardo Muti, cond; Agnes Baltsa (
); Edita Gruberova (
); Gwynne Howell (
); Dano Raffanti (
); John Tomlinson (
); Royal Op House Covent Garden O & Ch
EMI 09144 (2 CDs:
130:00) Live: London 1985
One of the things Italian composers always seem to have been good at was finding those moments in a story where the natural thing to do was to sing, moments often associated, to be sure, with strong emotions. An endless string of strong feelings was Bellini’s ace in the hand and if this meant the story seemed to stagger along, so be it. In the present instance, because the tale was and is well known, the spectator can easily fill in the gaps. Any Anglophone opera-lover, however, has to put aside the notion that this story comes out of Shakespeare’s play. Felice Romani’s text, already used by Nicola Vaccai, probably came from a play on the theme by Luigi Scevola, itself drawn from an older Italian tradition. There’s no Mercutio to be stabbed, no Nurse to give Juliet comfort; Lawrence is a doctor not a cleric, and Romeo wakes up from the poison for a brief moment to clasp Juliet, who dies for no apparent physiological reason. Passion, not psychology, is what this opera is about.
The performances from which this recording is made drew great praise at the time, not least for their passion. This is really Romeo’s story, though the three principals, Romeo, Giulietta, and Tebaldo, each exemplify a different passion: Romeo is rude, impulsive, and more than a little egoistic. Giulietta is faithful and passive, and caught in a dilemma of her own making, while Tebaldo is courteous, brave, and reasonable. The first version of this opera, made for Venice in a month in 1830, used a mezzo Romeo and a soprano Giulietta. This has become the standard version and is the one we have here.
Tebaldo’s big moment comes in the first scene and Raffanti’s tenor is robust and clear but a bit squally and unsubtle. Baltsa’s Romeo gets better as things go on. Her vibrato is rather noticeable until she gets warmed up, but the sound is warm and inviting, with enough edge to make her point. More than that, her recitative is a model of what ought to be done in that overlooked genre. Giulietta is the kind of role made for Gruberova and she is caught here at her best. Her long scene with Baltsa (act I, scene 2) quite rightly brings the house down. This was the sort of moment Bellini was an absolute master of, and it makes it hard to keep the rest of the story at the same level of intensity. Bellini understood this, so he wrote another scene similar to it in the second act. In a way, Gwynne Howell makes too nice a sound to embody Capellio’s bluster, and John Tomlinson does what he can to make Lorenzo interesting. As is typical of most opera houses, the orchestral sound is dampened, its resonance absorbed by the audience. Curiously, however, the singers on this recording sound far away, as if on a slightly cavernous stage, an effect more easily obvious at a low playback volume. As in the house, one gets used to this, of course, and so do we here as we become drawn into the music. Muti’s conducting helps in this, as it should, by keeping things moving without actually racing through to the end.
Being a practical composer, Bellini wrote for the singers he had at hand. For Milan, a few months later, he transposed the Romeo to soprano, and made a few other small changes, most notably making Lorenzo a tenor, to fit the lead singers there. That version is available in a live performance on Dynamic, with Clara Polito (Romeo) and Patrizia Ciofi (Giulietta), though I think they should have switched roles. From 1832, many Romeos thought they needed more to do in the finale and substituted Vaccai’s last scene, which can be heard as an appendix to the RCA recording, with Vessalina Kasarova and Eva Mei.
FANFARE: Alan Swanson
Works on This Recording
I Capuleti e i Montecchi by Vincenzo Bellini
Gwynne Howell (Bass),
John Tomlinson (Bass),
Dano Raffanti (Tenor),
Agnes Baltsa (Mezzo Soprano),
Edita Gruberova (Soprano)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Written: 1830; Italy
Date of Recording: 1984
Venue: Live Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Length: 130 Minutes 1 Secs.
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