Nicola Vaccaj was a contemporary of Rossini and composer of numerous operas of which only his 1825 work Giulietta e Romeo survives. It was produced and recorded at the Festivale della Valle d’Itria in 2018 on the outdoor stage of the Palazzo Ducale in Martina Franca. Giulietta e Romeo, like Bellini’s work on the same subject, is based on earlier material rather than the Shakespeare play and it’s quite different apart from the basic faked death and dual suicide at the end. Here we are less concerned with two young lovers. There’s more broad-scale political stuff. Romeo commands the Ghibelline army that is besieging the Guelfs (including the Capulets) in Verona. He has already killed Giulietta’s brother in battle and the lovers have known each other for some time. So Romeo is rather more than a boy though still sung by a mezzo. The themes are more about bereavement and revenge than young love. The conflict is more than a quarrel between two urban dynasties.
I’ve often wondered what happened to Italian opera after Puccini because nothing much has ever come my way. That is until today when I got my hands on a DVD of Pizzetti’s 1958 piece, Assassinio nella Cattedrale which is closely based on the Eliot play. Murder in the Cathedral is, when one thinks about it and how Eliot uses the chorus, a really good basis for an opera libretto. The libretto sticks pretty close to the play and Pizzetti provides a tense, dramatic score which brings out the underlying fear and tension in the Eliot. Just occasionally, and very effectively, he becomes more openly lyrical, as in Becket’s acceptance of his impending martyrdom, but mostly it’s pretty high energy. That said, Pizzetti seems to be quite a conservative composer and the music is essentially tonal and easy to grasp. One curiosity I noted is that in the lead up to Becket’s death he interweaves the men’s chorus singing the Dies Irae with the forebodings of the women’s chorus and the setting of the Dies Irae he uses is the same as in Bergman’s Seventh Seal which came out the year before.