Vincenzo Bellini’s opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues) is the kind of repertory rarity that lifetime opera fans might never encounter. And for good reason. It is not one of the best Bellini scores, nor is it a shining example of Italian opera of its era. So why did Florentine Opera, which only produces three operas each season, feel the need to produce it?
The Florentine production, which played for three performances last weekend, was titled Romeo and Juliet. However, the opera is not particularly based on Shakespeare, but rather on Italian novella sources. The story of the opera has significant differences from Shakespeare. It also lacks the young, romantic sweep of the play.
It was no surprise to see what seemed like a half empty house on Friday night. This opera was a questionable choice for Florentine management in the same season as Strauss’ Salome, which, despite being the masterpiece that Capuleti is not, also drew poor attendance.
Soprano Georgia Jarman’s performance as Guiletta (Juliet) almost made this dull opera worth hearing and seeing. She has a Beverly Sills-like quality to her phrasing, expressive and sympathetic. Her best singing was in the second act when attempting to persuade her father not to force her into an unhappy marriage.
Marianna Kulikova, a mezzo-soprano in the “pants role” of Romeo, sang with inconsistency, the highest notes of her voice white and shallow, her lowest notes effortful. As Tebaldo, tenor Scott Piper’s voice has an attractive timbre, but he sings without uniformity of tone; his highest notes did not sound at all connected to his principal range. Kurt Link was reliable as Lorenzo. As the Capuleti patriarch, bass Jamie Offenbach, though vocally adequate, was a hollow actor, with a gesture of spread arms repeated dozens of times.The production was directed without much style by Bernard Uzan. Joseph Rescigno led the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in the pit. Prominent instrumental solos from the orchestra were welcome high points, with lovely playing from William Barnewitz on horn, Todd Levy on clarinet, and Scott Tisdel on cello.