We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, May 5, 2014


Maestro Thomas Muraco with cast of I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Shi Li, Carlton Moe, Noragh Devlin, Kasia Borowiec and Scott Russell

If Bellini stands for a delicious brunch drink in your lexicon, you probably won't relate to Maestro Thomas Muraco's admirable production of Vincenzo Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Manhattan School of Music.  But if you adore bel canto as much as we do you will get yourself to tonight's performance at 7:30 in the Ades Performance Space.

Bellini's lengthy vocal lines were conducted by Maestro Muraco without a baton, his expressive hands making balletic movements through space.  The reduction of the score was apparently a group creation and was so effective that the orchestra was never missed.  Ronny Michael Greenberg and Jie Yi performed on two pianos with Yeon Hwa Chung making significant contributions on the harp.  Elizabeth Harraman's French horn and Michael Dee's clarinet had some marvelously melodic lines of their own.

The libretto by Felice Romani harked back to earlier Italian versions of the story of star-crossed lovers than the Shakespeare play.  Wisely, extraneous characters were eliminated to focus on five main characters and their interaction.  The story became immediate, personal and affecting.  It was all meat and no fat.

Interestingly, and typical of Italian opera of the period, the enmity between Romeo and Juliet's family has been securely placed in the realm of a political power struggle--the struggle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. There is nothing evil about Tebaldo; he just loves Giulietta and wants to marry her.  Romeo is not a hot-headed teenager; he is a successful warrior who killed Capellio's son on the battlefield and is now suing for peace.  Lorenzo is not a monk but a physician in the Capulet household and sympathetic to the young lovers.  No nurse.  No servants.  No best friends.  No Paris.  No mother. No Prince.

The role of Romeo was superlatively sung by mezzo Noragh Devlin, much praised in earlier reviews (available through the search bar).  She fully lived up to her reputation and created an ardent and sympathetic character.  She negotiated the fioritura as well as the long legato lines; she was equally splendid in her duets with Giulietta.

Soprano Kasia Borowiec was equally impressive as Giulietta.  She has a bright soprano with just the right amount of vibrato and her embellishments were accurate.  She too created a winsome character that we could care about.  She was especially moving as she weighed her familial duty against her love for Romeo who wanted to elope with her.

Tebaldo, as described above, was also a sympathetic character, especially as sung by the fine tenor Carlton Moe who had some outstanding arias in Act I and an interesting duet with Romeo in Act II when he expresses remorse about contributing to Giulietta's death.

The role of Lorenzo was well sung by bass-baritone Scott Russell who probably has low notes to spare; bass Shi Li delivered the goods in the role of Giulietta's father Capellio.

An all-male chorus was onstage throughout to narrate the action and was joined by a female chorus at the end, lamenting the heroine's demise during the funeral cortege; this mournful scene was accompanied by stunning harp arpeggios.

That there was no panic accompanying the occasional disappearance of the titles is a fine tribute to Stephano Baldasseroni, the Italian diction coach.  Even the chorus was totally comprehensible, a characteristic that we have only heard when listening to the Donald Palumbo-coached Metropolitan Opera chorus.  Since Maestro Muraco was responsible for the chorus preparation, he gets extra props.

Although this is a concert presentation, the drama comes from the music and there is no shortage of drama.  Listen for a fortuitous horn solo in Act I and a stunning back-and-forth duet between Giulietta and the clarinet as she expresses her ambivalence.  Listen for the faltering heartbeat in Act II when Giulietta drinks the poison.  Another duet between Romeo and the clarinet delights the ear in the tomb scene.

Until yesterday, our favorite version of R&J has been the Kenneth MacMillan ballet set to Prokofiev's music.  Now that Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca are no longer dancing those roles, our new favorite version is this one.  Go and enjoy!

© meche kroop

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