I Capuleti e i Montecchi - Royal Opera House, 2 March 2009 (opening night)
Sad - and surprising - to report that the Capuleti premiere couldn't quite match the thrilling rehearsal on Friday. Usually it's the other way round. But a little air had escaped from the balloon, a little of the lustre rubbed off. It was still very, very good though, with Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca taking a lot of the credit.
Not all of Netrebko's top notes were perfectly secure, her tone sometimes coarsened and she swooped and slid just a little bit more than good taste would suggest. But these were minor quibbles in a performance of immense musicality and warmth, one that moreover transcended the theatrical limitations of an elegant production which places aesthetic considerations above dramatic.
While others gesticulated hopefully, like a row of medieval Thunderbirds, Netrebko lived and breathed Giulietta's compulsive ardour with a calculated abandon. Her voice meshes perfectly with Elina Garanca's, most strikingly in their unison duet, a showstopping moment.
Garanca is not quite the actress Netrebko is, but can match and even surpass her for stamina and sheer beauty of tone. Netrebko I'm sure will have converted a few more unbelievers, and Garanca enhanced her rapidly growing reputation.
The blokes trail some way behind. None exactly fail, but none are up to the calibre of the supporting cast on Netrebko and Garanca's recent CD of the opera. The patrician gravity of Eric Owens's Capelio is marred by a vibrato so wide that the line sometimes disappears. Giovanni Battista Parodi's Lorenzo is dramatically effective, but unsteady of tone. And Joseph Calleja could eat the ROH's weedy Tebaldo, Dario Schmunk, for breakfast. With fries. The neatly colour-coded chorus (red for Capuleti, blue for Montecchi) were more impressive than the soloists, even if diction left something to be desired.
Mark Elder makes Bellini sound as clever as Mozart and as bold as Wagner. His tempos are on the slow side. Instead of the usual breathless rush of smudged notes, the spare details of the score emerge with crystal clarity. And he is so considerate of the singers, following Netrebko's caprices minutely, never rushing or overwhelming. The orchestra were on good form, though clearly not at their freshest. Horn and clarinet solos were painstakingly immaculate; pity the woodwind intonation wasn't.
Pier Luigi Pizzi's austerely elegant production looks routine in photos, but it's rigorously constructed, deceptively so. Pizzi is also his own designer. His architectural training results in a series of striking tableaux that are never simply random or just pretty.
What differentiates Bellini's version of the tale from Shakespeare's is its fatalistic propulsion. Each of Pizzi's sets simply shuffles the ever-present classical columns this way or that, a superficial adjustment of unvarying elements that underlines the inexorable fate of the young lovers. As Giulietta wakes in the tomb, drawing back the gauzy black veil which covers her prone form, we are reminded of her first appearance, kneeling alone in her room veiled in white, when - in a departure from Shakespeare - she wills her own death. What's missing from this production is detailed individual direction, personenregie, and as a result it's not as involving as more conventional interpretation might be. But if lives are guided by irresistible forces, not personal motivations, is that really an oversight?
For those who find Pizzi's allusions just a bit too subtle, there are some corking swordfights, courtesy of Fight Director Mike Loades, a man whose name should, by rights, be up there in lights with Anna Netrebko's. The Royal Opera House can always be relied on for a good scrap (some of the pathetic efforts I've seen in places like San Francisco and Vienna would be laughed off stage in London). But here they have surpassed themselves. The money spent on 'Actor Fighters' has not been wasted. Even Elina Garanca looks a doughty prospect with a weapon in her hand.
many more photos over teh page.................