OPERA NEWS - I Capuleti e i Montecchi
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I Capuleti e i Montecchi

Zurich Opera

In Review Zurich Capuleti hdl 915
Capuleti in Zurich, with Puchalski, DiDonato and Kulchynska
© Monika Rittershaus

ZURICH OPERA’S new production of Bellini’s Capuleti e i Montecchi was an unalloyed triumph — a combination of exquisite singing and creative but respectful stage direction. It would be difficult to imagine an evening in the opera house more glorious than June 21. It was an occasion to treasure.

The director, Christof Loy, took the work’s title seriously: this was very much “Capulets and Montagues,” rather than “Romeo and Juliet.” The production focused on the bloodthirsty battle between the two warring clans. During Bellini’s agitated, full-length overture, the revolving stage showed us various scenes of carnage from the past, present and (it suggested) the future — a never-ending cycle of violence. These scenes were interspersed and combined with images of a cowed Juliet at various stages of her childhood, adolescence and adulthood, with sexual abuse by her father strongly hinted. Bellini’s Juliet is a passive creature, unable to break away from her father’s grip and accept Romeo’s plea to flee with him from her captivity. In an opera dominated by powerful men, Loy’s fearful Juliet could trust herself only to the androgynous, unthreatening Romeo. In this, as in everything, the director showed a firm grasp of the opera as well as attention to details of text and music. Here was a story to believe in from beginning to end.

Olga Kulchynska, a twenty-four-year-old Ukrainian soprano, convincingly conveyed the withdrawn, hapless Juliet that Loy had in mind. While the voice itself was not a thing of beauty, her way of shaping her music was supremely satisfying. As her Romeo, Joyce DiDonato had an unqualified success. DiDonato looked and acted the impetuous youth to perfection. Her glorious singing came across with seemingly reckless abandon yet remained always in control. Her moments of despair, defiance and elation had one at the edge of one’s seat, while her duets with Kulchynska brought forth moments of beauty almost too much to bear. The size of Zurich Opera House’s auditorium ideally suited her voice, which leads one to hope that this, her debut in the house, will be followed by further appearances.

French tenor Benjamin Bernheim was a revelation as Tebaldo. Dramatically, he managed to be convincing both as war-mongering alpha male and as sensitive lover. His vocal emission was flawless and pure, ranging from delicate pianissimo to heroic fortissimo as required. This was an astonishing performance. The supporting roles of Capellio (Giuletta’s father) and Lorenzo were more than satisfactorily taken by Alexei Botnarciuc and Roberto Lorenzi, respectively. As the capoof the Capulets, Botnarciuc managed to look uncannily like Marlon Brando as the capo dei capi in The Godfather. The cast was completed by the addition of another character, identified in the program only as “The Companion,” who could be interpreted as Death, or more specifically as the spirit of Giulietta’s brother, slain by Romeo. He was satisfyingly portrayed by Gieorgij Puchalski. 

In the orchestra pit, Fabio Luisi surpassed even his own high standards in a luminous account of the score. The sensitivity of phrasing, the delicacy of colors and, when called for, swaggering military bombast — were all delivered with almost nonchalant mastery by Philharmonia Zurich. At the final curtain on opening night, the delirious applause accorded to all was more than deserved. —Martin Wheeler

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