Thu, Nov 06, 2014 - Page 11 News List

Classical DVD and CD reviews

By Bradley Winterton  /  Contributing reporter

I Capuleti e I Montecchi


By Vincenzo Bellini

Ciofi, Polito

Dynamic 33504

Considerable excitement seems to have been provoked in anticipation of the release this week of San Francisco Opera’s DVD of their production of I Capuleti e I Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues), Vincenzo Bellini’s not very close operatic approximation to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. We wrote earlier about a fine DVD version from 2008 starring Anna Netrebko [Taipei Times, March 26, 2013], together with her different version, also from 2008 but issued only on CD. There, we outlined the opera’s bizarre alterations to the original story, plus Bellini’s decision to use females for both the principal roles.

The San Francisco production, released on DVD earlier this week, stars one of the finest “bel canto” (beautiful singing) exponents available, Joyce DiDonato, as Romeo — the role she sang opposite Netrebko on the 2008 DVD. Extracts available on YouTube display not only her dynamic brilliance but also the musical vibrancy of the whole enterprise and the high-tech quality of the recording. Available visuals show the costumes by the celebrated designer Christian Lacroix to be restrained, even severe. Vincent Boussard is the director.

Meanwhile, versions of this once neglected work continue to proliferate. It forms a recent addition, for example, to the Naxos Video Library in a version from the Dynamic label. This is outstanding, this time on account of the presence of Patrizia Ciofi as Giulietta (Juliet). Her voice is resplendent by any standards, and her Romeo, Clara Polito, isn’t far behind. It was recorded in 2005 at the Festival of the Valle d’Itria. It is conducted by Luciano Acocella, is in modern dress, and has plenty of menace from the male participants. The staging — inside the Palazzio Ducale, Martina Franca — is minimal, but finely sung throughout.

A complete production of this opera from Japan is available on YouTube. It features Mariella Devia as Giulietta, Sonia Ganassi as Romeo, plus Japanese singers — all excellent — as the male soloists. The production is coordinated with great nimbleness and brio by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, with Daniele Callegari as conductor. Once the curtain goes up, the strength of the traditional costumes and staging are immediately apparent. Unfortunately, however, there are no subtitles.

But whether the star is Giulietta or Romeo, and the artist Netrebko, DiDonato or Ciofi, it is evidently Bellini’s long, melodic lines that unfailingly intoxicate the viewers. This is supremely beautiful music, so much so that some have been led to say it lacks seriousness. This can hardly be so, however, as the tradition it stands in is one that sees beauty as a sign of the presence of divinity. Bellini’s music is part of the ageless cult of the “Religion of Beauty.”

SYMPHONY No: 13 (“Babi Yar”)

By Dmitri Shostakovich

Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Naxos 8573218

Russian composer-pianist Dmitri Shostakovich, by contrast, could hardly be more different. With him the morose alternates with the scabrous and political meanings are hinted at frequently. But this is music that is monumental and undoubtedly representative of 20th century history. If it’s the 15 quartets that embody the composer’s brooding introspection, it’s the 15 symphonies that stand for his more public pronouncements.

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