Indeed, though most of the plot elements remain the same, this bel canto treasure springs from a different source than that used by Shakespeare. Sprightly and melodic, even as the story moves inexorably toward its tragic climax, composer Bellini's music focuses on the beauty in the pathos. And where the first audiences for Shakespeare's play would have seen male actors as both Romeo and Juliet, Bellini makes Romeo a pants role, bringing to the writing the same exquisite combination of female voices employed in his greatest work Norma, with the title character and Adalgisa.
In a brief note in the booklet of this Dynamic set, Sergio Segalini (director of the Festival della Valle d'Itria di Martina Franca where this production was staged) posits that Bellini's later revision of this opera (for La Scala) deserved staging, and so the front cover proclaims this CD a "first recording." Segalini points to the major difference, a revision that moves Romeo from a mezzo-ish Romeo to a more feminine soprano sound. For this staging the festival chose for Giulietta Patricia Ciofi, who has established herself well in Europe, if less so in the US. Carla Polito sings the soprano Romeo. The live audience came primed for the performance, by the sound of things - Dynamic has included extensive applause throughout the recording, peppered with fervent cries of brava.
Ciofi shines, if occasionally hard metallic glints burst through at the top of her range. Polito, no less distinctive, manages to differentiate her performance so that the ear does not become confused as to which of the two lovers is singing at any given moment. In the tenor role of Tebaldo, Danilo Formaggio impresses most in his recitative, delivered with force yet still attractively presented. In his arias the legato could be smoother.
Luciano Acocella conducts the Orchestra Internazionale D'Italia. Dynamic's sound does not favor the orchestra, which comes off as unsubtle, especially in the overture. As accompaniment for the singers, they serve well enough.
After initial success in its 1830 debut, I Capuleti e i Montecchi gradually sank below Bellini's three mature masterpieces, Norma, La Sonnambula, and I Puritani. In recent years the opera has enjoyed reemergence, for both its familiar story and many opportunities for lovely, florid singing. Fans of the composer will want this set for the fresh take of this edition. For others, the extra edge of excitement of a live recording may make this set preferable to the small number of studio sets, if they can be located. Dynamic continues to be a resourceful and interesting label for opera lovers.