Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi

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COMPOSERS: Bellini
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
PERFORMER: Eva Mei, Vesselina Kasarova, Umberto Chiummo, Ramón Vargas, Simone Alberghini; Bavarian Radio Chorus, Munich Radio Orchestra/ Roberto Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68899 2
Forget Romeo and Juliet, for Bellini’s opera with its blend of elegiac melancholy and martial ardour is based not on Shakespeare, but on a libretto (written for another composer in the late-18th century) which ultimately derived from a 15th -century Italian novella. Despite the fact that eight of its ten numbers contain music initially heard in other Bellini operas, it is a fascinating piece of bel canto – coherent, melodically attractive and moving.

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Roberto Abbado and the orchestra give firm and sympathetic support to the singers, while also keeping the action flowing. Vesselina Kasarova, one of the most exciting mezzo- sopranos to have emerged in recent years, is an exemplary Romeo, singing with glorious timbre, elegant phrasing and, where required, impressive virtuosity. She and her Giulietta, Eva Mei, give a dramatic and fervent account of the love duet, ‘Sì, fuggire: a noi non resta’, and present totally convincing characterisations throughout the opera. Ramón Vargas is a forthright Tebaldo, with Umberto Chiummo and Simone Alberghini first-rate as Capellio and Lorenzo.

Often in the 19th century, Bellini’s opera was given with a different final scene, taken from Nicola Vaccai’s Giulietta e Romeo: the finale of this work is included here as an appendix. His aria for Romeo in Juliet’s tomb is attractive, but Bellini’s own finale is better.

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EMI’s version, stirringly conducted by Riccardo Muti and recorded live from Covent Garden in 1984, with Agnes Baltsa and Edita Gruberová an affecting pair of young lovers, is impressive, but has now lost its benchmark position; this splendid new recording is to be preferred, especially for Kasarova’s Romeo.