Vincenzo Bellini

I Capuleti e i Montecchi, opera

    Description by Anne Feeney

    The story of Romeo and Juliet has inspired literally hundreds of operas, most of them based on the Shakespeare play. Bellini's treatment, however, with a libretto byFelice Romani, was not based on Shakespeare, but on a Renaissance story that Shakespeare had also used as a source. I Capuleti e i Montecchi, the most notable Romeo and Juliet opera from the bel canto era, emphasizes the poignancy of the story. Due largely to the limitations of the singers who would be performing at the premiere in Venice, Bellini made Romeo into a trouser role formezzo-soprano (a device that by then was considered slightly old-fashioned for a romantic lead), but the choice also emphasizes the youth and vulnerability of the lovers. While there are fiery moments, particularly the various martial declarations in the first scene by Tebaldo and Romeo, most of the opera spins out extended threads of wistful and longing song, in passages that are among the best of the bel canto elegiac style.

    The opera resembles Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet only in the names of the protagonists and the faked death/missed messages debacle. Romani trimmed characters out of the story line and simplified it - the only soloists are Romeo, Juliet (Giulietta), Juliet's father, Lorenzo (here a physician rather than a cleric), and Tebaldo (who is now the Capulet engaged to Juliet), and when the opera opens, Romeo and Juliet have already met and fallen in love.

    "Oh, quante volte," Giulietta's opening aria in which she longs for Romeo to return to her, is the opera's best-known aria and is highly typical of the entire work. Romeo has one martial cabaletta after the Capulets reject an offer of peace, but otherwise his music, too, mostly expresses the vulnerability and pathos of the two lovers. However, Bellini's mastery is not just in the beauty of the music for the lovers, but in the way it is set against the bloodthirsty music of the chorus, showing both families in the grip of war fever. Bellini used something of the same technique later, in Norma; there the stark contrast is largely limited to the first act, rather than being a focal point of the entire opera.

    Bellini was only 29 when he began his setting, but he had already enjoyed two major critical successes (Il Pirata in 1827 and La straniera in 1829) as well as three other operas and numerous songs and pieces of sacred music. For many, the work opens Bellini's mature period as a composer, displaying a powerful grasp on musical structure and harmony. His characteristic blending of arioso and aria and intensely melodic setting of recitative (which at times almost becomes indistinguishable from arioso) is already present in many moments, most notably in the final ensemble, and this is a style he was to bring to much fuller fruition in La sonnambula, Norma, and I Puritani. While much of the opera contains reworked materials, the reworkings were generally improvements on their originals.

    Romeo and Juliet was Bellini's first opera to premiere in Venice at La Fenice, where it enjoyed an enormous success. In 1833, it premiered in London at the King's Theater in the spring (where Bellini was present to witness this new triumph) and at the Paris Opera in the fall, where once again it was very successfully received. Bellini enjoyed some secret personal satisfaction from these successes: the opera included reworked versions of several melodies from Zaira, which Bellini believed had been unjustly labeled a failure.

    In the later part of the century, the work dropped in critical opinion, though it retained some popularity on the stage. Franz Liszt, Berlioz, and Wagner all condemned it as hopelessly old-fashioned, although even such musical progressives could not deny the appeal and richness of the melodies. It was revived in 1935, the centenary of Bellini's death, and during the bel canto revivals of the later twentieth century it was a regular if not frequent item in the repertoire of both opera houses and recording studios. In 1966, Claudio Abbado even created a version assigning Romeo to a tenor, but it was not widely adopted: almost without exception, Romeo remained a trouser role.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Overture
    2. Aggiorna appena
    3. È serbata a questa acciaro
    4. L'amo tanto, e m'è si cara
    5. Se Romeo t'uccise un figlio
    6. La tremenda ultrice spada
    7. Eccomi in lieta vesta
    8. Oh! quante volte
    9. Sì fuggire: noi non resta
    10. Vieni, ah! vieni, e in me riposa
    11. Lieta notte avventurosa
    12. Soccorso, sostegno, accordagli o cielo
    13. Se ogni speme è a mio rapita
    14. Morte io non tremo il sai
    15. Ah! non poss'io partire
    16. Stolto! ad un sol mio grido
    17. Ella è morta
    18. Siam giunti
    19. Ecco la tomba
    20. Tu sola, o mia Giulietta
    21. Deh! tu, deh!, tu, bell'anima
    22. Ah! crudel! che mai facesti?

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 IDIS 6709-6710
    2015 Glossa GCD 923404
    2011 RCA Red Seal 7856522
    2011 Nuova Era 233009
    2010 EMI Classics
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099964063
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 001281902
    2008 EMI Classics 5091442
    2008 Dynamic 552/1-25
    2008 Myto Historical Line 166
    2007 Allegro Corporation 9910
    2007 BRV BRV 9901
    2007 Allegro Corporation 9808
    2006 Gala Records 767
    2006 Nuova Era 7020/21
    2006 Dynamic 504/1-2
    2006 Opera D'Oro 7021
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Opera D'Oro 1439
    2005 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243586055
    2005 Brilliant 92461
    2004 VAI Audio 1221
    2003 Opera D'Oro 1397
    2002 Encore Recordings 1999
    2000 Gala Records 517
    1999 Teldec 21472
    1999 Mondo Musica 10604
    1998 RCA 902668899
    1998 Opera D'Oro 171
    1995 Madacy 5101
    1994 Madacy 5122
    1993 EMI Music Distribution 64846
    Pantheon 6780
    Melodram 27509
    Verona Records 28001
    Arkadia 474
    Fonit-Cetra Italia 2023
    Arkadia 550