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No Shakespeare

10/06/2003 -  and 10 October 2003
Vincenzo Bellini: I Capuleti e i Montecchi

Rhys Meirion (Tebaldo), Brindley Sherratt (Capellio), Graeme Danby (Lorenzo), Sarah Connolly (Romeo), Dina Kuznetsova (Giulietta)

ENO chorus and orchestra

Richard Bonynge (conductor)

Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi is an oddity and, perhaps as a result, an extreme rarity. Bellini ran it up from mainly recycled materials (music and libretto) in a few weeks, in contrast to his usual extended meticulous preparation; its lead role is for a heroic mezzo en travesti, not a big-league soprano; and, although bel canto was the soundtrack of Romanticism and Shakespeare was its hero, I Capuleti bears no trace of Shakespeare's treatment of the story, and indeed is economically cast with five singers.

This ENO concert performance suggests that bel canto isn't nearly as bad as its admirers like to think. True, to modern ears, the melodies are often indistinguishable, the pace is unvaried and the relentless major keys and double time are inappropriately cheerful. Nevertheless, performed in Italian by a non-specialist orchestra and singers under the expert leadership of Richard Bonynge, there was every sense of a well-made and ultimately moving musical drama and (unlike with Thaïs a couple of weeks ago) none of gaping holes where supernaturally endowed, or fetishistically adored, singers should be delivering vocal ecstasy and weren't.

Not that the cast was inadequate. In I Capuleti, Sarah Connolly was a confident, expressive Romeo, a fully rounded character in fine voice, and well up to carrying the work. The US-trained Russian soprano Dine Kuznetsova looked like a pre-Raphaelite beauty and sounded lovely as Giulietta, a much blander girlie than Shakespeare's. Graeme Danby was sympathetic as Lorenzo, the doctor who combines the functions of Juliet's nurse and Friar Laurence, Brindley Sherratt was a touch thuggish as Capellio, Giulietta's faction-leader father, and Rhys Meirion was handsome and vocally bland as Tebaldo, her betrothed, who is nothing like the swine that Shakespeare's Tybalt is.

The concert performance was minimally staged, presumably by the credited staff director Ian Rutherford, with the chorus behind the orchestra and the singers at the front of the platform. The entrances and exits all worked fine, but the staging really paid off in the melodramatic last scene, where the music changes dramatically as everybody turns to blame Capellio for the deaths of Romeo and Guilietta. Brindley Sherratt, who had been oozing villainy throughout, leapt back in horror and remorse during the last bars, in a pose worthy of Edmund Keane.

HE Elsom



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