No question that soprano Anna Netrebko is
one of operaís most visible, most glamorous, and most sought-after marquee
names. And the French are positively nutty for mezzo Joyce DiDonato (the rest
of the world is catching up) who has scored several (deserved) major career
successes in the French capital. Small wonder then that there was a profusion
of musical thrill seekers brandishing ìje cherche billetsî placards
outside the sold-out Bastille house.
To get it out of the way up front (as it were): in spite of being five
months pregnant, Ms. Netrebko was a radiant and wholly successful
ìGiulietta.î She was beautifully costumed in a flowing white gown to
minimize the modest protrusion of a tummy, and she moved with her usual
freedom and grace, including carefully assisted kneeling and fainting moments
as required by the plot. Only when she was flat on her ìdeadî back did
her condition become more apparent.
Her full-bodied, creamy lyric voice not only rang out thrillingly in the
hall, but she commanded several breathtaking high-flying pianissimi as well.
In her current ìconditionî it seemed that she may have divided up a few
of the longer phrases to maintain breath control, but nowhere was this
disturbing to the overall line. She nailed all of the familiar set pieces,
and the audience responded with predictably enthusiastic ovations.
For all her star quality, natural beauty, musical gifts, and attendant
adulation, Ms. Netrebko seems to be a sincere and unaffected colleague,
deferring the stage to her co-stars as the focus of the drama requires. A
wonderful collaborator, a fine voice, alluring presence, Anna is the real
deal without seeming to be a real diva.
To say that she was matched in star power by mezzo Joyce DiDonatoís
ìRomeoî would be an understatement. Ms. DiDonato has a wide-ranging,
high-powered, personalized and slightly reedy voice that she deploys
fearlessly to communicate every fine point of this complicated love-torn
character. There is no nuance of this role that escapes her. The deeply felt
cry when ìGiuliettaísî corpse was unveiled broke my heart. She is a
fine artist, with perfect diction and total understanding of the text and the
internalized emotion behind it. For the record, she was given the final bow,
after the more famous Anna (perhaps because the soprano has asked that
Patrizia Ciofi spell her for three performances of the run?).
As if these two would not be enough cause for celebration, the entire show
was cast from strength. Mathew Polenzani (ìTebaldoî) served notice right
at the top that we were in for a sensational night, his refined lyric tenor
ringing out in the house, and his first aria/cabaletta as fine as we could
wish. ìLorenzoî was so well-voiced by Mikhail Petrenko, and ìCapuletî
by Giovanni Battista Parodi that it was a pity there was not more for them to
Joyce DiDonato and Anna Netrebko (Photo by Christian Leiber courtesy of OpÈra national de Paris
Robert Carsen directed the original production and it is hard to know how
much he participated in the revival. An assistant, Isabelle Cardin is also
credited. Whoever, this was excellent work. Carsen knows how to place singers
on the stage so we are hearing them to maximum advantage, and he knows how to
move them logically to those positions through motivated blocking and
well-considered character interaction. Good God, a director who knows how to
tell the story!
He found an excellent partner in Michael Levine, whose handsome
red-paneled walls provided a wonderful playing space with the simple addition
of set pieces (stairs, bed, banquet table). The chapel was especially
effective with a wide band of light emanating from up left and rows of chairs
as pews providing all that was required. The tomb was no less effective, with
one wall panel tellingly removed to create a tomb that was ready to accept
ìGiulietta,î who lay in a pool of light surrounded by flower petals, and
was backed by back-lit choristers on a slightly akimbo staircase.
The team immediately established the important background of conflict by
having swords stuck in the stage apron which were plucked up by the
assembling ìCapuletsî during the overture. This visual theme was returned
to at the end of Act One when the clans square off by advancing on each other
and locking weapons in a group freeze center stage at curtain fall. And in a
brilliant tweak, at workís end the two forces assemble in the same
aggressive tableau around and over the dead bodies, visually stating that no
matter how profound the tragedy, we will walk over the corpses to have
history repeat itself.
One other brilliant touch: Act Two opened to the same chapel as had closed
One, but revealing dead bodies and over-turned chairs, the sad result of war.
As ìGiuliettaî sank down to her ìdeath,î the dead rose again in a
chilling effect, as if on Judgment Day, to welcome her to their ranks. The
sumptuous red velvet period costumes (black for the ìMontaguesî) were
exactly right, and provided an elegant sense of time and place.
Conductor Evelino PidÚís reading of this score was a revelation. I
cannot ever remember being so persuaded by the music, or so engaged in, and
moved by the drama of Belliniís somewhat flawed version of the famous tale.
The solo work from the clarinet, cello, harp, and horn was top drawer, and
indeed the entire orchestra performed splendidly.
There are those who may have come to ìI Capuleti e i Montecchiî
because it was ìthe eventî of the season, but they most certainly stayed
to cheer it to the rafters because it was just so damní good. Make that
product_title=Vincenzo Bellini: Les Capulets et les Montaigus
product_by=Capellio (Giovanni Battista Parodi), Giulietta (Anna Netrebko), Romeo (Joyce DiDonato), Tebaldo (Matthew Polenzani), Lorenzo (Mikhail Petrenko), Orchestre et Choeurs de líOpÈra national de Paris, Direction musicale (Evelino PidÚ), Mise en scËne (Robert Carsen), DÈcors et costumes (Michael Levine), LumiËres (Davy Cunningham), Chef des Choeurs (Alessandro Di Stefano).