On Saturday July 21st, Caramoor presented the second and final installment in this year’s “Bel Canto at Caramoor” series. Bel canto was a musical style and revolution where the focus shifted from the entire orchestra and ensemble to the power, technique and limitations of the human voice. Bel canto is particularly famous for its high notes.
On Saturday, Caramoor featured Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi. The story is not to be equated to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. While the characters may be the same, Capuleti is more faithful to the true story of Romeo and Juliet than Shakesperare’s play. Though Capuleti may not be Bellini’s most famous work –Norma, his opera about a pagan priestess holds that distinction –I Capuleti e I Montechi is still rich with beautiful melodies and, when performed by the right cast, the opera is spectacular.
Capuleti was written in only a month and a half’s time in early 1830 and performed that March, right in time for the Venice Carnival season. Later that year, Bellini made substantial edits to the vocal score, which included, among other revisions, the addition of a marvelous aria for Giulietta, before the work was presented at La Scala, the world famous opera house in Milan.
Caramoor’s Maestro Crutchfield worked with a critical edition of the score that contained an overture, however he decided to omit it. He specified in the program notes “Given his extreme haste, Bellini should not be condemned too harshly for producing an undistinguished overture—but it is really not up to the standard of the opera. I have never heard of anyone saying a good word about it.” Instead, the opera began with a chorus scene.
The Orchestra of St. Luke’s was in top form the entire evening and Maestro Crutchfield led a taught performance, but sometimes i found myself wishing that it had greater floridly and legato in some of the emotional scenes, which are necessary characteristics of a bel canto opera.
In a “pants” role, mezzo- soprano Kate Aldrich headlined the performance on Saturday as Romeo, one half of the star crossed lovers. It was clear from her very first moments on stage, that Aldrich is not a bel canto signer. Notably, Aldrich has performed more Verdi and lyric mezzo roles. Aldrich sang with an even tone for most of the evening, but her lack of bel canto technique and style caused her to lose power and trip over notes. That said, her high notes and runs were done to perfection and she was especially talented during the choral and orchestral scenes, when her voice soared above the orchestra creating a chilling effect.
Forming the second half of the couple, Cuban-American soprano Eglise Gutierrez shined as Giulietta. Her beautiful tone and the sparkling high notes, that she is famous for, won over the audience, giving her the most enthusiastic applauses of the night.
The amount of control Gutierrez has over her voice is astounding and her impeccable bel canto technique fit perfectly into this opera. While she sometimes lost power, the way she floated high notes and sang the high pianissimi made up for it.
As Tebaldo, tenor Leonardo Capalbo was disappointing. While he began the evening powerfully and lyrically, his performance seemed to become strained and it was sometimes hard to hear him over the orchestra.
Most outstanding in the ensemble was bass Jeffrey Beruan. His powerful yet melodious and intensely dramatic voice fit perfectly into the role. He was forceful, compelling and even sentimental at times making for a fantastic performance. Also in the ensemble was Benjamin Harris as Lorenzo, who was perfect as the man who tries to bring the two lovers together. He warmed up in the first few minutes of the performance giving a truly dramatic portrayal of the character.
Acting as almost a sixth character, the Caramoor Festival Chorus gave a superb performance. Their diction was spot on and they were perfectly in unison the entire performance. It was an exemplary choral performance.
I mean it when I say that this performance was spectacular, but it felt miscast.
While the performance was mostly presented in concert, without much staging, the few directorial choices made were sometimes confusing. For example, the nobles “opened” the crypt to reveal Giulietta and as Romeo mused over her internment, she wasn’t even onstage.
Capuleti is the final operatic offering at Caramoor for this summer but tickets are on sale for other music events.