But the simple, spare, exquisitely beautiful sets - basically a
steeply-raked matt black floor and rows of mobile black marble, gold
capital columns, with vistas of Verona, cypresses, monumental tomb
stauary beyond, all virtually monochrome - and the sumptuous, colour-
coded, costumes ( blood red for the Capulets, electric blue for the
Monatagues ) produce an almost continuous sequence of handsome stage-
pictures, dominated by individual and choral groupings that slash
diagonally across the prevailing parallel-to-the-prosecenium symmetry,
recreating an almost lost art - these days - of pictorial story-
telling and narrative symbolism. Every time the curtain went up after
a brief scene-shuffle, I felt like weeping for gratitude at the
straightforward, dignified, plausible and legible spectacle we were
being offered. If there were no more merit in the revival than simply
this, it would still be worth turning out for, if only to see at first-
hand how it all used to, and still evidently can, go when an opera is
treated seriously and sympathetically.
But this also happens to be much the most musically distinguished
outing this opera has had at Covent Garden since Muti conducted
Gruberova and Baltsa in it, many moons ago ( and recorded live on
EMI ). Mark Elder, as I've noted before, is very unpredictable :
sometimes leaden, sometimes electrifying, and if he didn't quite
impart Muti's blazing intensity to the score, he distilled its sombre,
shadowed tinta to perfection, whilst giving it plenty of energy where
required. The orchestra were plainly trying hard, the poor principal
horn audibly walking on eggshells determined not to blub and fluff his
long, exposed solo prefacing Act I scene ii; a most lovely harp
introduction; and some truly world class clarinet playing, most
imaginatively and artistically phrased. The chorus was excellent and
the fighting actors - credited as such - were unusually convincing, as
were all the fights, even those involving the actual soloists.
But we'd all come for Netrebko, and, to a lesser extent, Garanca, and
both produced the goods, though in my opinion Garanca's is the finer
instrument, under more complete control, and - to my surprise, this -
actually the bigger of the two ( no mean achievement, since Netrebko
is scarcely a shrinking vocal violet ). In fact, Garanca's Romeo
pretty much caused a sensation, as thrilling a performance from a
mezzo as I've heard since Stephanie Blythe's Azucena here, though this
is hardly comparing typological - or physical ! - like with like, I'm
quite aware. She has an easy stage manner, effortless control of both
her instrument and her striking person, and that abilty to nail a note
with such fearless, wholehearted precision as will always get any
audience going bigtime, and did.
Netrebko seems to be mushrooming somewhat, no longer notably svelte,
and the voice is following suit, expanding beyond the confines of bel
canto, though I confess to never having thought her ideally employed
in this repertory, there being some wrinkles in the emission and
sporadic flights of laboured coloratura with some unwise and
frequently sharp(ish) interpolated high notes. But she is stage animal
to the very life, to whom inconveniences like a shoe trapped in her
dress are surmounted with almost pleasurable ease and self-confidence,
and one who can actually move around, completely in character, with
uninhibited freedom. She is wonderful to watch, responsive to every
shift and turn of the drama as it affects Juliet, and sings with so
much sheer voice and conviction that to quibble about this or that
aspect of her technique does seem faintly ungenerous and unkind. I
note them, but cannot say that to any great extent they detract from
the tremendous theatrical effectiveness of her impersonation. And
more, much more than the sum of the parts, the effect of the two of
them singing together in duet at such length in Act I sc. ii and Act
II sc. iii is quite overwhelming, almost as if two monstres-sacree of
the old school - insert your Adalgisa and Norma of choice in this
space - were miraculously restored to vocal youth and beauty before
our astonished and grateful eyes.
Dario Schmunk had an awkward moment in alt, but I supect that will
pass, and he will sing with fine, ringing tone on Monday night ( the
Prima ). His role - Tebaldo/Tybalt - is relatively ungrateful, but he
makes the most of it, and fights a surprisingly gung-ho duel with
Garanca's sparky, hidalgo Romeo. Eric Owens was good as Capellio -
Capulet senior - but the Friar Laurence - Lorenzo - was rather
unsteady ( though actually young, and very handsome: the
resoundiingly-handled Giovanni Battista Parodi ). All in all, better
than one could have reasonably hoped for, and on a level of excellence
- vocal, scenic, dramatic, musical - far beyond the house's current
woebegone Rigoletto, and even going a long way to restore one's faith
in the overall direction of the House. Steal tickets if necessary.
Five stars, Sirrah. Grazie mille.
You know, after all these eons, I'm still PO'd that it wasn't renamed
'i Crapuletti', etc.', in honor of me!
Ancona, pronounced 'still p*ssed, never missed'
Much as it pains me to totally disagree with my venerable colleague
SJT, then I'm afraid I found this one of the dullest and most static
productions I've ever had the misfortune to sit through at the ROH,
despite the pretty costumes and elegantly minimal scenery.
The chorus seemed to be standing around in rows like something out of
an amateur operatic society and with the exception of Trebs & Garanca
then everyone else seemed to be left to their own devices as far as
the Personenregie was concerned.
Please believe me that I had been looking forward to this and honestly
wanted to like it......... I didn't know the piece and came to it with
an open mind, hoping to be swept away by a passionate and dramatic
score that was suitable invocative of the tragic subject matter - but
instead we got lots of oom-pahs and rumpty-tumpty woodwind that
sounded like it would be more appropriate in a Rossini comedy.
Apologies to all you Bellini fans out there.......but it just wasn't
my cup of tea.
On the plus side, I thought Garanca sang absolutely gloriously and
gave a superb performance. Her height really helps her look more
convincing as a man (she was taller than the tenor), even though she
moves on stage perhaps a little too gracefully.
Usually I'm a big fan of Netrebko but IMHO I don't think the bel canto
repertoire suits her - the voice is too big and lacks enough agility
for the coloratura.
So - sorry SJT, but I think I would rather have sat and looked at a
grey shower curtain with water trickling down it for 3 hours
> Smiles all round today. A palpable hit, at last. Pizzi's nigh-on
> thirty year old staging has been completely rebuilt, and though this
> revival is credited to Massimo Gasparon, Pizzi himself was present at
> the control desk in the Grand Tier, agonising about the lighting I
> imagine, since although the atmosphere generated by limiting of the
> light to onstage sources only is very powerful, and the painterly
> effect of chiaroscuro quite brilliantly realised in almost
> Caravaggesque detail, it's also true that the principals' faces are
> virtually invisible for whole stretches of the work as they move
> between pools of light and dark. This much at least needs some more
and how clear is my memory of that original performance run - listening
yesterday to the recording with the same duo (for I cannot afford a
decent ticket, sob), Garanca brought the same adrenalin rush as Baltsa
all those years ago, better than any cast I've heard in between. Trust
and hope there'll be radio relay. The staging was worthy of a TV
broadcast too but doubt that's in the running these days...
Nicholas Goldwyn, London
- spam deterrent : delete -NOSPAM from my email address to respond
Indeed, young master Goldwyn, there will be a former. I keep pointing
out to people that there is in fact no half-way decent DVD of the work
at present, and that, since the ROH owns their own DVD label and have
quietly spent a small fortune on reconstructing the original sets, why
don't they roll the cameras and plug the proverbial gap; but
apparently it's not so simple as that, with all manner of rights-
related issues obtruding. Even so, once the reviews are in, and
there's that peculiar three-week long break in the run of
performances, I wouldn't be at all surprised if somebody wound up
ready for their close-ups in fairly short order come April........
OK, obviously I was joking about the shower curtain but I honestly did
find the Capuleti a chore to sit through. I agree with you that the
production and costumes are beautiful to look at but that's not enough
for me if everyone is just standing around in a static manner and it's
dramatically unconvincing..........it needs some more life. Otherwise
the singing was generally excellent.
My main "issue" with Bellini's score is that it's all too jolly,
jaunty and cheerful which seems totally at odds with such a tragic
story. Would it really have killed him to write a couple of miserable