Bellini's 'I Capuleti e i Montecchi',
heard by MIKE WHEELER
Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 19 November 2008) provides something of a footnote to Opera North's recent run of Shakespeare-inspired operas, since Felice Romani's libretto derives not from Shakespeare himself but from earlier Italian sources. The basic plot -- two lovers from opposite sides of a conflict -- is in place, but there many differences in the details. Among the most striking of these, Capelio, Giulietta's father, has betrothed her to Tebaldo (Shakespeare's Tybalt), while the roles of Friar Lawrence and, to some extent, Juliet's Nurse, are combined in the doctor, Lorenzo.
The drop-curtain, marked like a giant target and riddled with bullet holes, immediately alerts us to the fact that director Orpha Phelan has set the action in a contemporary, unspecified, war-torn country. The production is full of compelling imagery. The Capulets, anxiously hurrying on stage during the overture in ones and twos, need passes to enter their fortress community. A large but oppressively dingy skylight descends like prison bars over Giulietta's room at the beginning of her first scene. Through it we can make out guards casually coming and going in the background. Act 2 is played out against a heap of twisted metal and flooring -- an explosion caught in freeze-frame. Most startling of all, the final scene of Act 1 begins with Giulietta watching in horror as her worst fears about her impending marriage to Tebaldo are played out by a body double thrown around (in a harness) among the Caupletti men like a rag doll.
The two lovers are outstandingly sung. Sarah Connolly's Romeo, dressed mostly in a white suit, is convincingly masculine (though her wig does make her look disconcertingly like a young Stephen Fry). Marie Arnet makes Giulietta a touching and believable mixture of tenderness, impulsiveness and trepidation. Nikolay Didenko gives us a glimpse of the despair behind Capelio's bullying. Similarly, Edgaras Montividas' Tebaldo is more than just a one-dimensional villain. Henry Waddington is a touchingly sympathetic but ultimately powerless Lorenzo. As ever, the Opera North Chorus and Orchestra sing and play their socks off, and Manlio Benzi conducts with a fine grasp of the opera's pace.
Another brilliantly realised staging from Opera North.
Copyright © 1 December 2008
Mike Wheeler, Derby UK