Mixed feelings – Reviewer vs. Audience – Bellini at the Munich Opera Festival

Bellini, I Capuleti è I Montecchi: Soloists, Bavarian State Orchestra and Chorus, Yves Abel (conductor).  National Theater Munich. 24. 7.2011 (JMI)

Production Bayerische Staatsoper in coproduction with San Francisco Opera.

Direction: Vincent Boussard
Sets: Vincent Lamaire
Costumes: Christian Lacroix
Lighting: Guido levi


Romeo: Vesselina Kasarova
Giulietta: Ekaterina Siurina
Tebaldo: Dimitri Pittas
Capellio: Ante Jerkunica
Lorenzo: Carlo Cigni

This performance of I Capuleti è I Montecchi was a great success with the audience, while personally I sat  through one of the most boring evenings I can remember.

This production was premiered in late March this year and bears the signature of Vincent Boussard, whose other work I have found capricious and expensive, as well as boring. The staging is steadfastly minimalist with walls painted with diffuse and textually irrelevant motifs: I can think of dozens of operas where this setting could be used just as easily. In some scenes we were offered a stage showing nothing more than  a big staircase. That  seemed to be Mr. Boussard’s platform for showing off the costumes by his friend Christian Lacroix in a parade of haut couture as if they were the  work’s real core but which in fact had nothing whatever to do with the opera. It seems too that the hundreds of meters of fabrics he spent on dressing the chorus were all used up by the time he thought about poor Giulietta, who was presented in some kind of corset.

To my mind, Guido Levi’s  lighting was the best part of the whole production. For the rest, Mr. Boussard’s  ideas are confined to dubious  symbolism set off by the above-mentioned minimalism. He makes Giulietta into a mad girl from her first her entrance on stage, as if she was Lucia di Lammermoor and in fact the only positive aspect of this production is its neutrality , since it could be used for hundreds of different operas without affecting  them in any way at all.

The music was entrusted to the Canadian Yves Abel, whose work I also found disappointing although to be fair he did mark the tempi well and took good care of the  sound balance between pit and stage. But giving life to Bellini needs more than that unfortunately,  although the orchestral sound was good as is  usual at the Nationaltheater and the chorus was certainly correct.

All opera lovers know that this piece has two main singers and that the others are decidedly secondary. Its success, as in most other bel canto works, depends on the vocal performance of the male and female leads, in this case Romeo and Giulietta.

When this production had its premiere, Vesselina Kasarova was announced as Romeo, but she withdrew and was replaced by  the young Irish soprano Tara Erraught, who had excellent reviews. Although Ms. Kasarova was again listed to perform Romeo at this Festival performance, I was initially convinced that  she would cancel once more.  The repertoire she has been singing in recent times–this year alone she has performed Venus, Dalila, and Carmen–does not seem to fit well with such an eminently bel canto character as Romeo. So my expectations were not very high, but in the end things worked out better than I expected, though not exactly perfectly, to my taste. I find Ms. Kassarova’s voice to lack homogeneity between different registers:  she maintains an attractive middle range, but the top is seriously compromised and her lower notes sound hollow to me and somewhat artificial. To this I should add that Bellini’s long phrases also give her difficulties here and there. I find that I can still like her Romeo, but it is no longer what it used to be.

The Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina was the Giulietta. She is a light soprano with a attractive voice, but am never  convinced by a very light soprano singing this character. There is no need, of course, for a dramatic voice in the role, but emotions do need to be conveyed and that requires something extra to what Ms Siurina provided. There is no doubt at all that she has good qualities, but I wasn’t much moved by her singing.

The American tenor Dimitri Pittas was Tebaldo and he was not well suited to the bel canto style. He had with serious difficulties with the upper notes, even dodging  them when he could. The two basses were Ante Jerkunica (Capellio) and Carlo Cigni (Lorenzo) – both  unremarkable to my way of thinking.

The Nationaltheater was again sold out and the audience gave an enthusiastic reception to Vesselina Kasarova and Ekaterina Siurina. Readers may find this hard this hard to believe but  I have always defended the idea that the public’s judgement about opera performances is always completely right. Sometimes however , as in this case, I seem to be unable to understand it.

José M. Irurzun