Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi (DVD)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bellini
LABELS: San Francisco Opera
WORKS: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
PERFORMER: Joyce DiDonato, Nicole Cabell, Saimir Pirgu, Eric Owens, Ao Li; San Francisco Opera & Chorus/Riccardo Frizza; dir. Vincent Boussard (San Francisco, 2012)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 2059668; Blu-ray: 2059664

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The concept is that the tragedy of Bellini’s particular star-crossed lovers takes place inside their heads – so Joyce DiDonato tells us in the bonus interview that comes with this San Francisco production. Actually it seems to be happening mostly in the head of the director, Vincent Boussard and his haute couture costume designer Christian Lacroix.

Renaissance Verona has become Bellini’s Paris in the 1830s and guests for the Capulet’s party, all dressed to the tens and elevens, gather on a vertiginous staircase that stretches up to the flies – well almost. Frankly, it’s more Phantom than opera. Juliet’s bedroom looks like an art installation with a featured white hand basin and not much else, and the tomb is empty. The men, principals and chorus, are uniformed in black top hats and frock coats and their women look as if they’ve spent a day attending one of Patsy Stone’s retail therapy sessions. Everywhere, of course, there are Lacroix’s signature bustiers, ruffles and ‘bubble skirts’.

However, when you listen and forget about the fashion runway, this is a fine performance of Bellini’s score. Joyce DiDonato is everything you would want in a Romeo, ardent and angry and in superb voice. In Act I she offers a masterclass in how to sing this music. And her Juliet, Nicole Cabell, matches her at every turn with a gloriously smoky middle register that effortlessly stretches up to the top extension of her voice. If Saimir Pirgu is less than winning as Tebaldo – it’s a rotten part – and Eric Owens a rather stodgy Capulet, Ao Li brings real angst to the hapless Lorenzo, always caught between the murderous instincts of the feuding families. A special word of praise for the principal clarinet who plays the sinuous solo in Act II – there’s Bellinian regret in every phrase.

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Christopher Cook