By Buzz Bellmont. Posted on November 13, 2012
I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues) is a Bel-Canto Italian opera in two acts byVincenzo Bellini. The libretto by Felice Romani is a reworking of the story of Romeo and Juliet for an opera by Nicola Vaccai called Giulietta e Romeo, based on Italian sources rather than taken directly from William Shakespeare. Bellini was persuaded to write the opera for the 1830 Carnival season at the Teatro La Fenicein Venice. It took him only a month and a half to complete the composition. He succeeded by appropriating a large amount of music previously written for his unsuccessful opera Zaira.The first performance of I Capuleti e i Montecchi was on March 11, 1830.
The setting for Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi takes place in and around the palace of Capellio (Capulet) in Verona in the 13th century. In this version of the story the Capuleti and Montecchi are rival political factions (Guelph and Ghibelline, respectively) rather than Shakespeare’s two households. Capellio is the father of Giulietta (Juliet) and the leader of the Capuleti. Giulietta is betrothed to Tebaldo (Tybalt), however she has already met and fallen in love with Romeo, leader of the Montecchi. This is a secret to all but Lorenzo (Lawrence), her doctor and confidant. Complicating matters, Romeo has inadvertently killed the son of Capellio (Giulietta’s brother) in battle. The final scene of the play takes place in the tombs of the Capulets and more closely follows Shakespeare’s tragic tale of love and loss.
One cannot help but to notice the striking similarities between Bellini’s remarkable score and the phenomenal scores of “the Italian Mozart,” Gioachino Rossini, who retired the year before Bellini penned I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Bellini’s astute orchestrations many times mirror the brilliant orchestrations found in Rossini’s most cherished operas. The surprise in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi is his tendency during arias to allow the orchestra to completely drop out of the accompaniment, thereby creating many compelling a capellamoments one after another, leaving us with only the glorious and expressive voices that expertly create the characters in this extraordinary and rarely seen Bel-Canto masterpiece.
Director Carlos Conde was well aware that, because of the unique demands of one of opera’s most difficult scores, he would have to cast astounding singers that were gifted with perfect pitch that could perfectly carry the many a capella phrases in the score but that could also carry the weight of expressively and convincingly becoming the unique characters that we follow for almost three hours. This critic witnessed the brilliant Ruby Cast on Saturday evening, November 10. Mr. Conde’s staging could not be more perfectly paced and more beautifully realized. His casting is superb.
How does a singer warm up to sing one of the most demanding Bel-Canto operas in the world? One sings the first act, so that, hopefully, the second act becomes the pièce de résistance, which is exactly what this critic experienced this past weekend. During the first act, voices seemed to push a bit harder than usual and high notes were rather strident, but when the second act came upon us (and the loveliest arias are in the second act), we were more than ready to graciously accept with our ears the glorious music that touched us deep within our souls’ yearnings.
Justin Hopkins as Lorenzo, Sarah Heltzel as Romeo (Photo: Kinjo Yonemoto)
Camille Zamora‘s Giulietta is one of most well-acted and gorgeously sung roles of the season. Will we ever forget her stunning Anna Bolena from Donizetti’s masterpiece last season? Ms. Zamora’s colorful and powerful instrument soars to the heavens as she takes us on the final journey of this tragic tale emblematic of young lovers and doomed love. Her expressive acting is the stuff legends are made of. Ms. Zamora boldly and confidently takes us into the many a capella moments of the score and delivers us safely back to Bellini’s magnificent orchestrations with the exquisite blessing of a perfect ear and perfect pitch.
Mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel is absolutely stunning as Romeo. Her robust tones strike the perfect balance of power and subtlety. The gorgeous Ms. Heltzel makes quite a handsome and beguiling Romeo and her acting is so convincing and authoritative that we believe without a shadow of a doubt that she is Romeo.
Lázaro Calderón‘s Tebaldo is strong and bright, fueled by a lovely tenor instrument that is pure and meritorious.
Daymon Passmore as Capellio seems rather bored here yet comes through with a strong basso.
The charismatic Justin Hopkins stands out considerably as Lorenzo and his resonant and jubilant baritone-basso reverberates with expression and confidence to the last row of the balcony of Lambert Hall. I can state with assurance that we are anxious to hear much more of Mr. Hopkins’ glorious baritone-bass instrument in the near future.
The profoundly stirring mens chorus takes center stage here, with Bellini’s rousing choruses being brilliantly and buoyantly executed under the expert guidance of Chorus Master C. Vincent Fuller, Jr. Patricia Bernstein and Traci Davis stand out as ladies in waiting, the only women in the chorus.
Maestro Enrique Carreón-Robledo is always an absolute joy to watch as he brilliantly conducts an orchestra that is unparalleled in its expert musicianship. Individual musicians stand out as they provide enchanting solos in Bellini’s intriguing score: Patricia Card, clarinet;Debra Rathke, horn; and Scott Card, violincello.
Scenic designer Rachel Smith creates a beautiful predominately wooden set with two arched double doorways upstage with a balcony between them and a hand-painted icon beneath the balcony. Simple set pieces are moved on and off and strike the perfect balance.
Costume designer Dena Scheh creates ravishing and gorgeous highly detailed costumes in a multitude of fabrics and textures.
Lighting design by Kevin Taylor perfectly captures the mood and intrigue of one of the greatest family feuds and love stories of all times.
The Ruby Cast I have reviewed here plays two more performances, Thursday, November 15, 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, November 17, 7:30 p.m.
The Emerald Cast, with Julia Ebner as Giulietta and Brandy Lynn Hawkins as Romeo, plays Friday, November 16, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, November 18, 2:00 p.m.
I believe that you will be as mesmerized as I was with this glorious production of this rarely produced Bel-Canto masterpiece.
For tickets, please click on: http://operaintheheights.org/