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A CurtainUp Opera Review Review
I Capuleti e i Montecchi

by David Lipfert

Like the two larger New York conservatories, Mannes College of Music chooses lesser-performed operas to showcase the vocal and instrumental talent of its current students and recent graduates. Bellini's Capuleti e i Montecchi shows up in the area about once a decade, usually in concert form, so this is a welcome production.

CurtainUp readers should note that the story line of Bellini's Capuleti follows Shakespeare's sources rather than the bard's version in giving a prominent place to Juliet's betrothed, Tebaldo. Favorite characters like Mercutio, Benvoglio, Lady Capulet and the Nurse are absent; so in spite of the title "The Capulets and the Montagues", the plot is concentrated on the rivalry of two men for the same woman. Except for Lorenzo's place among the Capulet household rather than in a hermitage, the events leading to the deaths of the two lovers are the same.

Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, currently on view at the Metropolitan Opera, likewise follows this schema rather than Shakespeare's. The recently rebuilt Dicapo Theatre is ideal for an opera of this scale, with a stage large enough for an adequate presentation but a hall that enables both singers and orchestra to make a substantial presence. Unfortunately the pit allows only a reduced orchestra complement, and Bellini's oboe and cymbals were sorely missed. In this age of authenticity, however, the balance between the winds and strings in this setup is closer to right sound for this opera.

John Norris has updated the action to a proto-facist era which still maintained swords as the weapon of choice, but Campbell Baird's costumes make it hard to identify which family the various thug/retainers belonged to besides putting Giulietta back into the 1860s. While Mr. Norris generally handles the small but mighty-voiced chorus well, he allows the principals to resort to stock gestures at the more dramatic moments. Instead of profiting from the musical structure to allow Romeo and Tebaldo to hurl insults at each other across the full width of the stage, Mr. Norris has them jump immediately to an otherwise admirably choreographed duel as would be effective in spoken theater.

Greta Feeney demonstrates commitment as an ardent Giulietta but tends to sing sharp in her higher register. Erin Callahan is believable in the trouser role of Romeo, but her strong high notes are not matched by an unfocused center and dropped bottom. Without adequate focus, neither she nor Brian Anderson, the Tebaldo, can hope for a big career in spite of ample vocal production.

Conductor Gabriel Guimarães makes the tempi accommodate the needs of the singers and instrumentalists in the ornamented passages, but the finale is overly attenuated. A beautifully-played cello solo at the beginning of the second act is noteworthy as are the clarinet duets. Mostly in recitative, two small connecting scenes reinstated in this production give greater continuity to the story line.

Gordona Svilar has created a serviceable unit scena per angolo that handily suggested an outdoor courtyard framed by large, square pillars or an indoor setting when sliding panels came into place. Marcia Madeira's lighting is a plus.

Running time is about 2 hours and 30 minutes.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Music by Vincenzo Bellini (1830)
Libretto by Felice Romani
Music Director: Gabriel Guimarães
Stage Director: John Norris
Chorus Master: Pamela Gilmore
Set Designer: Gordona Svilar
Lighting Designer: Marcia Madeira
Costume Designer: Campbell Baird
Mannes College of Music Dicapo Theatre, 184 E 76th St, New York City 212/288-9438

Romeo--Erin Callahan
Giulietta--Greta Feeney
Capellio--Young Bok Kim
Tebaldo--Brian Anderson
Lorenzo--Young Joo Lee
Men's and Women's Chorus
Presented from 3/15/98 to 3/21/98 Reviewed 3/17/98 by David Lipfert

©Copyright 1998, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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