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A CurtainUp  Berkshire Review
I Capuleti e I Montecchi
(The Capulets and the Montagues)

Margaret Krull & Leah Summer
(Photo: Tom Rosenthal )
Mention famous lovers, and the names Romeo and Juliet will top the list. Yet in the opera repertory, Vincenzo Bellini's bel canto version of the famous lovers' story is something of a rarity and according to CurtainUp's opera expert, David Lipfert, even in New York City with its large base of opera enthusiasts the opportunity to hear Bellini's I Capuleti comes along about once in twenty years. (It's not all that much in evidence in Italy either since Italians generally don't like Bellini's departure from Shakespeare's story line). David took advantage of one of those opportunites in 1998 ( see our review of that production by the Manhattan School of Music here ). And now we can report that the Berkshire Opera Company's first in a summer dedicated to the theme of romance is handsomely staged and beautifully sung.

As they did last summer this scrappy little company, with its ever-growing audience from near and far, has tied their schedule to other cultural events in the area. And so, anyone who's here for more than a few days will have a chance to experience this opera rarity as well as Shakespeare's interpretation of the star crossed lover tragedy and a hip-hop dance version. (Romeo and Julietat Shakespeare & Company's main stage and "Rome &Jewels" at Jacob's Pillow).

The Bellini opera, unlike the Bard's play, emphasizes the role of Tebaldo, the man Juliet's father wants her to marry. It is the rivalry of Tebaldo and Romeo for the same woman that drives the libretto. Such famous Shakespearean characters as Mercutio, Benvoglio, Lady Capulet and the Nurse are nowhere to be seen or heard. Lorenzo is the family physician and not in a hermitage. Otherwise, the unhappy circumstances leading to the deaths of the two lover are the same.

Maestro Joel Revzen seems to have a clear understanding of Bellini's demand for instruments and voices to bring out the variety of colors. His Camerata Orchestra and the fine cast he's assembled provide just what Bellini ordered -- gorgeous melody after gorgeous melody.

Marguerite Krull is a lovely Juliet. Her trim figure fits the trend towards divas who would look as at home on a theatrical musical stage as in an opera house. Her soprano sound is well suited to the role. Leah Summers' mezzo-soprano lends a cello richness to the "trouser" Romeo, making a strong impact from her "O Quanta Volte" opening aria onward. The two singers' voices blend mellifluously and with particular poignancy during the duets.

Krull and Summers are joined by tenor Matthew Chellis who charmed audiences in the BOC's The Magic Flute. He manages to do so again even though as Tebaldo he is more villain than hero. He does a particularly good job with Bellini's ornamental lines. Bruce Baumer, brings his well-trained bass and a strong presence to the role of Capellio. Gary Aldrich also lends strong support.

While these five names are all you'll see in the cast listing of your program, the theater resounds with sixteen other voices -- the twelve men and four women who comprise the much recorded Gregg Smith Singers. The first time collaboration between conductor Joel Revzen and this well-known group is most fortuitous in terms of vocal singing despite the fact that their acting is not on a par with their vocal prowess.

As with the above mentioned The Magic Flute this production once again looks wonderful thanks to the cooperation of the Virginia Opera. In the best bel canto tradition, there are none of the theatrical bells and whistles of Flute. The focus is on what is particular to this outstanding example of bel canto opera -- allowing the singers to sing sublimely.

Bellini, who was born into a musical family in 1801, was fortunate in having Felice Romani as his librettist for this as well as his better-known operas, Norma and La Sonnambula.. Romani who was known as the best Italian theatre poet of the day, like Bellini, used Shakespeare's sources but did not read the Bard's Romeo and Juliet before working on I Capuleti.

As pleasant and well-located a venue as the Koussevitzky Arts Center is, the Berkshire Opera has progressed sufficiently to merit a home where they could do at least three operas each season, to present them in rotating repertory, and to be free of the limitatios of the current orchestra pit size. Here's hoping that rumors of such an eventual home either in Great Barrington or as part of Shakespeare's newly purchased property in Lenox will indeed become fact before too many more seasons pass.

I Capuleti e I Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues)
Music: Vincenzo Bellini
Libretto: Felice Romani
Stage Director: Carleen Graham
Conductor: Joel Revzen
Cast: Giulietta - Marguerite Krull; Romeo- Leah Summers; Tebaldo - Matthew Chellis; Capellio - Bruce Baumer; Lorenzo - Gary Aldrich
Chorus: The Greg Smith Singers
Stage settings courtesy of Virginia Opera
Scenic Designer: Peter Dean Beck
Lighting Designer: Michael Lincoln
Chorus Master: Gregg Smith
Fully staged and performed in Italian with English supertitles by
Berkshire Opera Company
Koussevitzky Arts Center
Berkshire Community College
Pittsfield, MA 01201 Tel: (413) 443-7400 - Fax: (413) 443-3030
Berkshire Opera web address July 1, 6 and 8 at 8 pm July 3 and 10 at 2 pm
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one 20 minute intermission

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on July 1 performance

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