Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi conducted by Fabio Liusi

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COMPOSERS: Bellini
LABELS: Accentus Music
ALBUM TITLE: Bellini
WORKS: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
PERFORMER: Joyce DiDonato, Olga Kulchynska, Benjamin Bernheim, Roberto Lorenzi et al; Zurich Opera Choir; Zurich Philharmonia/Fabio Liusi; dir. Christof Loy (Zurich, 2015)
CATALOGUE NO: ACC 20353

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Christof Loy’s Zurich staging of Bellini’s Romeo and Juliet opera pays the work the compliment of taking it seriously. In a central work of the bel canto canon, it is crucial that vocal values are scrupulously maintained – and here they certainly are, with an even and technically excellent cast, who understand the need for librettist Felice Romani’s text to be given its due as so expressively set by Bellini. Fabio Luisi’s conducting, too, is dynamic and dramatically conceived.

Designer Christian Schmidt’s visualisation suggests the conflict of two sharp-suited Mafia families in the 1950s, and uses a revolve to show us a long back-history of internecine strife that effectively continues throughout the opera. Here, we are conscious of the context for the extraordinary thing that happens between the two principals, and how the previous generation’s inability to let go of their age-old feud ultimately destroys them.

Joyce DiDonato returns to the role of Romeo, having already filmed it in the much less satisfactory 2012 San Francisco staging by Vincent Boussard. One or two high notes escape her, but generally her disciplined and imaginative singing, fine declamation and focused acting help convince us she’s a somewhat geeky male teenager in love. Soprano Olga Kulchynska, new to the international scene when she jumped into the role of Giulietta, proves a worthy match for her more experienced partner.

No one else gets much of a look-in in this opera, though Benjamin Bernheim makes more of Tebaldo than usual, and proves surprisingly sympathetic, while Roberto Lorenzi’s Lorenzo (a doctor rather than Shakespeare’s priest) and Alexei Botnarciuc’s Capellio are both impressively achieved. Loy adds a silent, androgynous companion for Romeo, enigmatically played by Gieorgij Puchalski, but he certainly does no harm.

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George Hall