Opera Australia: I Capuleti e i Montecchi

It's Romeo and Juliet, but not as we know it. This Bellini opera - Opera Australia's I Capuleti e i Montecchi - which premiered in 1830, draws on other, earlier sources of the story of star-crossed lovers from rival factions in a bloody feud.
Opera Australia: I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Opera Australia: I Capuleti e i Montecchi It's Romeo and Juliet, but not as we know it. This Bellini opera - Opera Australia's I Capuleti e i Montecchi - which premiered in 1830, draws on other, earlier sources of the story of star-crossed lovers from rival factions in a bloody feud. They are differences between the opera and Shakespeare's version, but it's essentially the same timeless tale – perhaps why this production, making its Australian premiere, chooses a setting of indeterminate time and place. Mid-20th century Europe is my best guess, as detail and artifice is set aside to underscore the story's physical and emotional desolation. The stark set, harsh lighting and plain costumes in muted tones, foreground the performances. The predominantly male chorus was in excellent voice, setting the scene for the excellence of the cast. Mezzo-soprano Catherine Carby, in one of opera's last male roles written for a woman, was compelling and charismatic, her vocal control, power and range supported by persuasive acting, especially in the tender scenes with Giulietta. In this role, young soprano Hye Seoung Kwon was also compelling, her pure and agile voice well suited to the demands of bel canto. Her exciting arias and duets here point to a singer of even greater strength and subtlety in future. As her betrothed, Tebaldo, Aldo Di Toro was also a delight. He has a beautiful, mellifluous tenor, and conveyed passion in both voice and action. Gennadi Dubinsky as the lovers' go-between, and Shane Lowrencev as Giulietta's father, were also rock solid in their smaller but important roles. This cast of five plus, a moderately sized chorus could have been left floundering in their grim, desolate surroundings without strong performances and uncomplicated direction. The audience's only significant visual candy is the fragmented floor at the start of act two (floorboards warped and suspended in space, as if the room is frozen, mid-explosion), and a huge, back-lit window ostensibly of heavily scratched glass panes. Both are striking, but the latter is, at least in the front rows, a slightly noisy distraction during the singers' and orchestra's quieter moments as it slowly hums in and out of position. Despite a paucity of visual cues, the production generally works well theatrically and narratively, starting with the sobering sight of an enemy being executed by a boy-soldier. However, the end of act one was somewhat confusing, as seemingly dead Capuleti rise up to fight the invading Montecchi, who are armed with laser-sighted sub-machines guns yet remain in a long stand-off with enemies carrying rifles. There were a few other little flaws in direction, and I was at times slightly bored by the bland set, but the performers, supported by Orchestra Victoria in fine form under Brad Cohen, absolutely delivered. Ultimately, that's what a good operatic experience is all about. I Capuleti e i Montecchi is sung in Italian with English surtitles, and is playing at the State Theatre, Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne, until May 9. For bookings, phone Ticketmaster on 1300 136 166 or visit Ticketmaster’s website.

Patricia Maunder

Thursday 16 April, 2009

About the author

Patricia Maunder is a Melbourne writer.