San Francisco Opera
September 29, 2012
Review by JANOS GEREBEN
Forget Shakespeare. Vincenzo Bellini and his hapless librettist, Felice Romani, came up with their own static, nonsensical version of Romeo and Juliet in the 1830 The Capulets and the Montagues – so called by the San Francisco Opera instead of I Capuleti e I Montecchi.
The visual offering of tonight’s premiere of the Bavarian State Opera-San Francisco co-production in the War Memorial was a bewildering combination of Vincent Boussard’s bizarre direction, Vincent Lemaire’s disorienting sets, and Christian Lacroix’s phantasmagorical costumes.
From the opening scene of the Capulets milling about (and blocking the view of soloists) in stovepipe hats, under a cloud of suspended saddles, to the final scene of poor Juliet standing motionless to portray her in death, distractions and self-indulgent “director’s opera” bits piled on one another.
(One interesting variation from Boussard on the old theater convention defined by Chekhov, “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall…”, is “If in the first scene saddles float in the air, they will be carried to battle in the second act.”)
And yet, none of this mattered. Vocally-musically, this is wonderful production. Joyce DiDonato’s Romeo and and Nicole Cabell’s Juliet go right into the record of great performances. They sing radiantly, joyously separately, and — even more — together. DiDonato is well-known and much treasured in these parts, but Cabell is making her debut here, a striking, memorable one.
In addition to the vocal challenges of the Bellini score, Cabell also had to put up with the director’s harebrained instructions to climb up on a narrow shelf to sing one aria, then balance on the edge of a barrier for the next, and then there was that living-statue-while-dead shtick — and through it all, Cabell sang like an angel, the voice soaring through the big hall effortlessly.
Riccardo Frizza conducted the orchestra in an exciting, splendid performance. Ian Robertson’s Opera Chorus had another triumph, top hats and convoluted (but picturesque) costumes notwithstanding.
Eric Owens breezed through the role of Juliet’s father, Adler Fellow Ao Li made a strong impression as Doctor (not Friar) Lorenzo. Saimir Pirgu’s debut here, as Tybalt, didn’t measure up to reviews he has been receiving in Europe. The young Albanian shouted in the first act, and there were miscalculations and small breaks on high notes, but improved by the duet in the crypt with Romeo near the end. There must be some roles better suited for Pirgu than this.
Major and confusing diversions from Shakespeare include Romeo’s previous killing of Juliet’s brother, and cousin Tybalt wanting to marry Juliet (instead of the non-existent Paris), and Juliet’s completely different character from the one in the play. She is more like Donizetti’s Lucia here, conflicted, hesitating, resisting, going mad. From the director: consistent distance between the two alleged lovers.
But to repeat: Listen to DiDonato and Cabell, relish the performance of the orchestra and chorus, and admire Cabell’s Olympic athleticism.
GIULIETTA: NICOLE CABELL *
ROMEO: JOYCE DIDONATO
TEBALDO: SAIMIR PIRGU *
LORENZO AO LI
CAPELLI: ERIC OWENS
CONDUCTOR: RICCARDO FRIZZA
DIRECTOR: VINCENT BOUSSARD *
SET DESIGNER: VINCENT LEMAIRE *
COSTUME DESIGNER: CHRISTIAN LACROIX *
LIGHTING DESIGNER: GUIDO LEVI *
CHORUS DIRECTOR: IAN ROBERTSON
* SAN FRANCISCO OPERA DEBUT
Wed 10/3/12 7:30pm
Thu 10/11/12 7:30pm
Sun 10/14/12 2:00pm
Tue 10/16/12 8:00pm
Fri 10/19/12 8:00pm