A little-known masterpiece by Vincenzo Bellini was staged without decorations, but with an actual subtext.
Romeo woman kisses Juliet in the bathtub, Montague and Capulet fighters in leather jackets march through the auditorium, and the battle of the two clans turns out to be hand-to-hand in slow-mo. All this could be seen at the opening performance of the regional program of the festival of musical theaters “See Music”, held with the support of the Ministry of Culture. Graduates of the Moscow Conservatory and GITIS staged an entreprise production of Bellini’s Capulet and Montague, which after the premiere at the Theater. N.I. Sats will be shown in other cities as well. The mixture of eras and styles here turns out to be not so much artistic as a practical technique due to the touring nature. But, perhaps, this price is worth paying for the possibility of a live acquaintance with the little-known masterpiece of bel canto.
This is not the norm
The Italian composer of the first third of the 19th century, Vincenzo Bellini, is known primarily for his opera Norma, from which everyone knows the aria Casta diva. His Somnambula and Puritans are also regularly staged. The rest of Bellini’s works are rare guests on theatrical stages. The adaptation of the legend of Romeo and Juliet is not very successful either. Perhaps one of the reasons was the decision to entrust the role of Romeo to a woman, a mezzo-soprano. In those years, the tradition of castrated singers was still alive, although it was already declining, and such gender tricks were perceived calmly – if only the vocals were good and the music was beautiful. But in the future, the directors simply did not understand what to do with it.
Yes, teenage characters were often instructed to sing in low female voices – just remember Vanya from “A Life for the Tsar” by Glinka and Lel from “The Snow Maiden” by Rimsky-Korsakov. But by doing so, they were, as it were, deprived of sex, emphasizing their distance from love conflicts. The main romantic character must, of course, be a tenor. In extreme cases, baritone. “Capulet and Montague” does not fit into this stereotype.
Another problem is the plot. All over the world, the story of Romeo and Juliet is clearly associated with which author, although it was not he who invented it at all. Bellini has very little left of Shakespeare. There are not just warring families here, but medieval political clans – Guelphs and Ghibellines, Romeo is a military leader, lovers together even before the start of the action, and the main villain is Juliet Capellio’s father. In general, Bellini’s work is not drawn to an “honest” operatic adaptation of the story, which is no more sad in the world. But maybe this is a plus from the point of view of our days. “Capulet and Montague”, even without any directorial sophistication, looks like an experimental piece from the category of those that frighten conservative theater-goers – the discrepancy with the textbook plot and images is too great.
However, director Elizaveta Korneeva and production designer Yekaterina Ageniy decided to go further – not only got rid of any historical entourage, but also did without decorations altogether. The opera is played against the backdrop of black curtains. The orchestra sits at the back of the stage. And all the props are limited to a dress with a long veil, a suitcase and a white empty bathroom, in which Juliet is periodically immersed, then she and Romeo. In order to somehow diversify the action, the authors decided to use the auditorium. The characters pass between the rows, use the stalls doors instead of the wings, sit on chairs or on the floor, right at the feet of the audience. This really adds to “Dvizukhi”, it hardly makes sense.
The reason for visual minimalism can be easily explained: it is a pleasure to carry such a performance around cities and villages. A bath and a suitcase are everywhere, and nothing else is needed. The viewer, however, has a triple dissonance: firstly, because of the plot mismatch between the opera and the Shakespearean original, and secondly, because of the aesthetic inconsistency of the staged entourage with historical motives (it is not so important – medieval, 16th century, when Shakespeare wrote the play , or XIX, when Bellini was composing an opera).
Actual and eternal
But even this could be reconciled if the musical side did not cause complaints. And they are. The orchestra under the direction of Dayana Hoffman lacks a well-built balance and lightness (and the brass instruments are predictably not perfect), the singers lack the organics of existence in the Belcantian tradition. However, there is no need to wait for anything else – just like Wagner, only a few people can sing bel canto in our country. But if you don’t try, they won’t learn. So the very fact of staging “Capulet and Montague”, and even with the prospect of regional distribution, is a great blessing.
In addition, the least questions to the performers of the main roles. The gentle brunette Valeria Bushueva (Juliet) and the brutal blonde Ekaterina Lukash (Romeo) delighted the ear, respectively, with confident tops and bottoms, and most importantly, they successfully contrasted with each other in acting. But, leaving Romeo a long tail, the director seems to have defiantly abandoned the attempt to disguise the singer as a young man. Therefore, despite all the efforts of the couple, in their ardent interaction, the spoiled spectator of the 21st century inevitably reads a variation on Keshish’s Life of Adele. Well, by the way, why not? New times – new meanings. And only love is eternal.