I Capuleti e i Montecchi, a 19th-century Romantic drama only vaguely related to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, lives and dies on the strength of its two protagonists. The Teatro alla Scala managed to get two absolute stellar singers, who delivered magnificently. The preparation of this new production presented in Milan was ridden with obstacles: both the conductor and the principal tenor (Evelino Pidò and Renè Barbera) had to be replaced during the rehearsals because of Covid rules, the chorus had to sing with FFP2 masks (red for the Capulets, black for the Montagues), but the resulting performance was nothing short than excellent.

Marianne Crebassa (Romeo), Jongmin Park (Capellio) and the La Scala Chorus
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Adrian Noble's new production places the story in the 20th century, framing the political feud between the two families in the social turmoil between the two world wars. We were thankfully spared any didactic allusion to the rise of Italian fascism, which was nevertheless a clear reference throughout the action. Tobias Hoheisel's set was grey and ominous, and there were some corny moments – the snow in the second act – but the direction of the singers was precise and effective. A pet peeve of mine (particularly in this opera) is that sword fights simply do not translate well into gun fights. Once again, we saw Romeo and Tebaldo, in their duel in the second act, alternatively threatening each other with a gun for long minutes, with nobody taking a shot. It’s just ridiculous.

Overall, it was perhaps a not particularly inspiring production, but certainly harmless, and it did help narrate the story. It featured stunningly beautiful images, created by intelligent lighting (Jean Kalman and Marco Filibeck) and thanks to the near perfection of the two protagonists’ physique du rôle.

Marianne Crebassa (Romeo) and Lisette Oropesa (Giulietta)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Conductor Speranza Scappucci launched into the overture with energy and led the La Scala Orchestra in a beautiful, varied reading of the score. Her tempi were brisk and fearless in the scenes of excitement – and the excellent chorus followed her with precision – while she gave large space to the beautiful never-ending melodies, supporting the singers with perfect balance between pit and stage. A truly enjoyable performance.

It is hard to imagine two singers more suited to the roles of Giulietta and Romeo than Lisette Oropesa and Marianne Crebassa. Oropesa’s soprano was silvery, with splendid, phosphorescent high and super-high notes, while Crebassa’s mezzo had a spectacular warm and bronzed timbre, with remarkable uniformity in all registers, and beautiful, round high notes. They showed great commitment to the roles and good chemistry among them. Oropesa’s Giulietta was convincingly torn between her love for Romeo and loyalty to her father, with a lyrical delivery, full of pathos. Her “No, non poss’io partire” in the second act was a miracle of filati and variations, with spotless high notes. Crebassa’s cabaletta in the first act was sparkling and precise, without the unnatural pushing into the low register in “ma su voi ricada il sangue” that we have heard so many times. Her low register was perfectly supported and “in place” just like her high notes. She managed to perfectly inhabit the rash, impetuous young man, blinded by love and fired up in the struggle with the enemy. Even her being a bit wooden on stage helped convey the character: she looked like an impossibly handsome, slightly awkward teenager in a film by Truffaut.

Marianne Crebassa (Romeo) and Lisette Oropesa (Giulietta)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Both singers have incredible breathing techniques, their legato flawless, their bel canto style impeccable. In the finale, Oropesa looked like Snow White, lying in her open grave – another corny, but beautiful image. Her delivery managed to express all the excitement at finding Romeo beside her at her awakening, turning to anguish and desperation when she realises he’s dying, with a delightful, sad sob in her voice. Absolutely heart breaking, tears flowed in the audience.

Marianne Crebassa (Romeo) and Lisette Oropesa (Giulietta)
© Brescia e Amisano | Teatro alla Scala

Of the 20 or so support characters in Shakespeare’s play, only three made it into Bellini’s opera. Frate Lorenzo was veteran Michele Pertusi, who gave Giulietta’s confidante a fatherly tone with his powerful bass. Tebaldo, Romeo’s rival, was Jinxu Xiahou, a young Chinese singer with a beautiful, light tenor. He demonstrated very good bel canto technique, a remarkably Italianate sound and fluttery, exciting top notes. Jongmin Park sang Capellio (Juliet’s father) with a booming bass, at times too cavernous and perhaps not at its most elegant; his interpretation was nevertheless convincing and successful. 

*****