Festival della Valle d’Itria 2018 Review: Giulietta e Romeo

Sesto Quatrini & Co. Make Strong Case For Unfairly Neglected Vaccai Opera

By Alan Neilson

Nicolà Vaccai (1790 – 1848) was an Italian composer determined to make a success in the field of opera. Unfortunately, and despite limited success, he was ultimately to fail, eclipsed in his early years by the genius of his contemporary, Gioacchino Rossini, and unable, in his later years, to adapt to the rapidly changing tastes exemplified in the new dramatic works of Bellini and Donizetti. Yet, he was undoubtedly single-minded, managing to compose 17 operas over the course of his lifetime, even though he suffered numerous setbacks. Only during a short two year period, form 1825 to 1827, did he experience any real success, of which, “Giulietta e Romeo” was the most notable. In fact, so successful was it, that Maria Malibran preferred it to Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi,” and was to champion his cause. Fame, however, was to elude him, and he is now only remembered as a footnote in the history of opera; a noble failure dedicated to its cause. Today, he is perhaps better remembered for his teaching manual “Metodo pratico di canto Italiano per camera,” which is still in print.

This production of “Giulietta e Romeo,” by the Festival della Valle d’Itria, therefore, presents us with a rare opportunity to cast an eye over Vaccai’s most successful work.

Unfairly Neglected

Judging by this performance, this is a work that has been harshly treated by history’s fickle favors, for “Giulietta e Romeo” is an opera that could easily hold its own among the better-known works in the bel canto canon. It has taut plot, with a strong libretto, written by Romani, and is full of well-constructed ensemble pieces, particularly the beautiful Act one duet for Romeo and Giulietta, “Oh quante volte amor ci lusingò?” There are plenty of opportunities for the soloists to show off their skills in arias with wonderful cabalettas, and strongly written choruses are in abundance. Certainly, one can understand Malibran’s enthusiasm for the final scene in which Romeo succumbs to the poison, and Giulietta takes her own life. A possible explanation for its neglect is the debt it clearly pays to the music of Rossini, whose influence runs throughout the score – but Vaccai is certainly not the only composer who could be accused of such a sin.

The director, Cecilia Legorio took a traditional approach to the work, setting it in the 16th century. It was, however, not a sentimental production in which the audience is encouraged simply to empathize with Romeo and Giulietta’s doomed love affair, but one set firmly against the background of the vicious feuding of the Capuleti and Montecchi families, in which violence and hatred are very much to the fore. The sets had a dark, gloomy atmosphere, and successfully generated the underlying fear and the ever-present threat of impending violence that dominate the work. The scenographer, Alesia Colosso, had an open stage, with a low dark wall at the back, and a high wall on the right side, up which a staircase ran to Giulietta’s bedroom. On the left hand side, at the front of the stage was the tomb of Guilietta’s brother, who had been killed by Romeo. It was a multifunctional set, which required barely any changes, but was extremely effective in allowing easy entrances and exits for the large number of soldiers or townspeople. Giuseppe Palella’s costume designs were sympathetically styled, and reflected Legario’s aesthetic. Moreover, dressing Capellio’s soldiers in menacing black costumes with masks of ferocious beasts, left the audience in no doubt as to their malevolent intentions, and added to the atmosphere of dread that hung over the work, which was further enhanced by the dimly lit stage, engineered by Luciano Novelli. Legario was particularly successful in developing clearly defined and believable characters; gestures, movements and facial expressions all contributed to their realistic representation. Scenes were well-choreographed, so that even when the stage was crowded, the focus was firmly fixed on the main protagonists; the drama never lost its momentum. The set pieces were also nicely integrated into the drama; the Act one trio, for example, had Cappelio forcing Giulietta and Tebaldo’s hands together, both of whom were intent on pulling them away, which perfectly captured the complex dynamic between the three characters. It really was a well-paced, and visually pleasing production that successfully captured the love and hatred which drives the narrative forward.

Musical Brilliance

If the stage direction was of a high quality, the same can also be said of the music, under the direction of Sesto Quatrini. With barely a weakness to be heard, the orchestra, chorus and soloists produced a splendid rendition of Vaccai’s opera, and will have done much to rehabilitate its reputation.

The doomed lovers were played by the soprano, Leonor Bonilla, as Giulietta, and by the mezzo soprano, Raffaella Lupinacci as Romeo. Both put in excellent acting and singing performances, and together made a convincing pair of lovers. Their voices were suitably different, yet complemented each other well. Bonilla’s voice has a wonderfully clean sound, with a thrilling top end, which she used to great effect during her coloraturas, and which highlighted her brilliant vocal flexibility. Her phrasing was full of subtle detail and exhibited a smooth legato, and she spun out her lines with confidence and élan.

Lupinacci’s voice, on the other hand, was awash with color, that she varied with a great deal of skill, adding to her ability to inject meaning through her use of subtle accents. It created a very expressive performance. Her intelligently crafted recitatives were layered with emotion and meaning. The high points of the opera are, unsurprisingly, dominated by the lovers. The Act one duet, “Oh quante volte amor ci lusingò?” in which they reflect on their love, was sung with great emotion and beauty, Bonilla’s bright voice wrapping itself neatly around Lupinacci’s darker voice. It is a beautiful duet, which confirmed Vaccai’s ability. The final scenes of the opera are, indeed, of high quality. In scene 10, Romeo laments the death of Giulietta. In the aria, “Ah se tu dormi, svegliati” Lupinacci once more showed off the considerable expressive versatility of her voice.

More Incredible Performances

Having seen Leonardo Cortellazzi sing on numerous occasions over recent months, in widely differing roles, he never ceases to impress with his ability to successfully bring depth to the characters he portrays. As Capellio, Giulietta’s father, he yet again provided evidence of his accomplished and versatile acting and singing skills. He has a pleasing, strong, well-balanced voice, with an attractive timbre. His portrayal of the revenge obsessed Capellio, which eventually leads to the death of his daughter, was compelling.

The baritone, Christian Senn, was a formidable Father Lorenzo. Authoritative and supportive of Giulietta he cut a domineering figure amongst Capellio, Tebaldo, and the soldiers who had only murderous intentions in mind. Senn has a strong voice, with a warm timbre and displayed excellent control in delivering his arias and recitatives.

Soprano Paoletta Marrocu in the role of Adele, Giulietta’s mother, gave a fine performance. Her voice possesses real beauty, and has an agility which she used expressively to characterize the role to good effect. The scena “Stanca da lunga veglia,” in which she sings with a choral backing while watching over the sleeping Giulietta, was a cameo of exquisite charm and delightfully delivered.

Tebaldo, played by the baritone, Vasa Stajkic, certainly looked the part, but he failed to sufficiently convince in the role. He appeared to lack emotional engagement with the character, and gave a fairly low-key performance.

The chorus of Municipale di Piacenza, under the direction of Maestro del Coro, Corrado Casati, made an excellent impression in the numerous sections they are required to perform. They also acted out their roles with credit.

The conductor, Sesto Quatrini, has a very distinctive demeanor on the podium; at times, his whole body appears to be infused with the music. His animated movements are so intense, and his communication so clear, that it is easy to understand exactly what it is he wants from the orchestra and singers. The players of the Orchestra Accademia Teatro alla Scala responded marvelously to his direction and produced an energetic and expressive performance, which captured the dramatic thrust of the work.

Based purely on this production it is very difficult to understand as to why Vaccai’s opera is not performed more often, for there is real quality here, both musically and as a piece of theatre.


ReviewsStage Reviews