I Capuleti e i Montecchi, an opera that has been firmly standing on the fringes of standard repertoire in the past decades, is yet another piece that has not been seen at the Hungarian Opera House for ages, its last outing having been in 1992 in a concert performance. Thus, I'm very grateful that the HSO decided to include Capuleti in its Shakespeare 400+ Festival (even though the piece has nothing to do with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet): with the right cast, this opera is certainly worth hearing.

The story only shares the elements of the potion-induced simulated death of Giulietta and the tragic ending with the Shakespeare play. Felice Romani's libretto makes the Capulets and Montagues not simply rival families, but two groups standing on the opposite sides of a civil war: Guelphs and Ghibellins. But despite the title and the political overtures of the libretto, the focus remains on the lovers' increasingly desperate struggle to remain united: if not on earth, then in heaven.

The two star-cross'd lovers here both gave dazzling performances. While the audience's favorite was Klara Kolonits' Giulietta, I found Szilvia Vörös' performance even more convincing. Vörös is quite young, but already a remarkable singer: a vibrant voice with a metallic top that cuts easily through the ensembles, great legato and coloratura, incredible breath control, touching expressivity and a real sense of style, she displayed perfectly what bel canto singing should sound like. Alternating between exuding youthful arrogance and tormented lovesickness, she really made Romeo come to life.

Klára Kolonits is undeniably the reigning queen of bel canto in Hungary, and her performance was a testament to her aptitude and love for this repertoire. Her mellifluous voice, round, golden and clean, is a pleasure to listen to, and her command of it is incredible: singing coloratura and interpolating high notes seems to be as easy and natural for Kolonits as taking a breath. But she seemed to revel in that a bit too much, ornamenting both of her simple, melancholic arias with such generosity that it came at the cost of dramatic impact. The ovations for her display of vocal prowess were well-deserved, but the display itself felt rather out of place.

The rest of the cast gave high-quality performances as well. Gyula Rab's strong, bright tone, technical security and stylish singing made for an appealing Tebaldo, although he was occasionally drowned out in ensembles. András Palerdi's authoritative Capellio and András Kiss' sensitive Lorenzo impressed in their relatively minor roles. The contributions of the chorus, however, never quite rose above adequate.

György Vashegyi, a renowned early music specialist, seemed out of his depth in Bellini. His conducting was characterized by bafflingly slow tempi that made all dynamic contrast disappear (notably in the Act I duet between Romeo and Giulietta) and he struggled to keep orchestra and soloists together. He was not helped by the Dohnányi Orchestra Budafok, whose intonation issues, pallid playing and thin, dull sound failed to delight or thrill. Admittedly, Bellini's orchestral writing in this opera is hardly the most arresting, but it deserves a more attentive and energetic performance than what it received.

On paper, this concert seemed like an excellent opportunity to do justice to a neglected work, and the singers certainly managed to rise to the occasion, but the performance fell below being truly remarkable.