The story line for Bellini’s opera I Capuletti e I Montecchi will be familiar enough though it’s very condensed and based on the earlier source by Bandello rather than Shakespeare’s more elaborate reworking. So, lots of feuding but no back story, no balcony scene, no friar’s cell. But (spoiler alert) the ending is the same. Vincent Broussard’s production, originally from Munich but filmed in San Francisco in 2012, sets the work around the time of its composition and seems at times to reference that it was composed for the Venice Carnivale. It also veers around between being quite literal and trying to make the story something going on in Romeo’s head. The production is quite influenced visually by the fact that the costumes were designed by Christian Lacroix and it’s unclear whether he’s trying to support the production concept or promote his brand.
So, at times it’s really visually weird for non obvious reasons. The Capulets look they got their costumes from Goodwill c.1850 but there are saddles hanging from the ceiling in the opening scene and later, in Act 2, when the Capulets are off to duff up Romeo they carry these saddles. Juliet’s room has a sink in it. Just a sink, which she climbs on. The ladies of the chorus are either supposed to have got over enthusiastic about the newly discovered aniline dyes or are a product of Romeo’s acid trip. Their flower stuffed mouths rather suggest the latter. Juliet perfunctorily appears in her wedding gown but soon sheds it and spends the rest of the opera in her underwear, including in the tomb. Romeo’s overactive imagination again? In the last couple of scenes this all comes to a sort of climax. Tybalt and Romeo’s “duel” consists of the two characters wearing oversized rubber “duelling gloves” dancing around each other. Juliet arises from her tomb at Romeo’s summons and shuffles around like a zombie. Actually she’s been pretty zombie like for most of the second act. It’s not exactly Regie as there really doesn’t seem to be a “big idea”, rather it’s a series of visual images that try and compensate for the fact that not much happens dramatically.
Bel canto fans won’t mind much about any of that because the singing is pretty exemplary. Joyce DiDonato is pretty much ideal as Romeo and Nicole Cabell is a rich toned Juliet with super legato and legs that look pretty good in her poofy underskirt. Throw in Saimir Pirgu, Eric Owens and Au Li and one has a pretty much unbeatable cast. It’s all really beautifully and idiomatically sung. Riccardo Frizza conducts. I’m never really sure how much difference the conductor makes in a piece like this. The orchestral music is, well, Bellini (rum, tumpty tum) and the singing is what we want to listen to I think.
Production for DVD isn’t too bad. The picture and (DTS) sound quality are up to best modern standards. Frank Zamacona is reasonably judicious with the video direction but towards the end he wants to get his “this is all in Romeo’s head” angle in with the shot selection and video trickery. There are some OK interviews with Joyce and Nicole as extras plus some trailers for other Euroarts discs.
There aren’t too many video recordings of this opera and none nearly as strongly cast. As Gramophone magazine said “if you can overlook the sometimes baffling production” this is probably the one to get.