In 1830 Vincenzo Bellini was commissioned to write an opera for the Venetian Carnival with only a month and a half before its premiere. The harried composer had no other recourse but to pilfer music from Zaira, another work of his that had had a disastrous reception sometime before.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi premiered successfully that March at La Fenice, with the famed soprano Giuditta Grisi in the role of Romeo and the extensively named aristocrat Maria Caterina Rosalbina Caradori-Allan (née de Munck) as Giulietta.

The libretto by Felice Romani, who grabbed an old one he had written for Nicola Vaccai’s Giulietta e Romeo was based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

The NAXOS DVD features a cast led by mezzo-soprano Sonia Ganassi as Romeo and soprano Jessica Pratt as Giulietta. Omer Meir Wellber conducts the orchestra and chorus of Teatro La Fenice. The production is by Arnaud Bernard.

Romeo’s Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio, with its cabaletta La tremenda ultrice spada and Giulietta’s Ah, quante volte! would make it worthwhile to sit through Bellini’ 136-minute video rehash of Shakespeare’s masterpiece if the two central characters looked the parts of two good looking teenaged lovers and sang like seasoned artists. Unfortunately, neither Sonia Ganassi as Romeo nor Jessica Pratt as Giulietta convince visually or dramatically or vocally in this budget-conscious production.

If there were a way to get an ideal cast for this opera this listener would hire Joyce Di Donato for the role of Romeo and Aida Garifulina or Lisette Oropesa or Nadine Sierra for Giulietta. Or one would simply sit down to listen to an old recording of the opera with Edita Gruberova and Agnes Baltsa to remind one of what Bel Canto is all about.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

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