One of the fundamental elements in the storyline of Festival of Martina Franca is the renewal of musicians who have  been forgotten for a long time. This edition of the Festival opened with Nicola Vaccai's Giulietta e Romeo, a 19th-century opera which has not only a historical and philological interest for scholars and experts, but, as we could appreciate, is also of great musical value, earning a very warm reception from the public.

Raffaella Lupinacci (Romeo) and Leonor Bonilla (Giulietta) © Fabrizio Sansoni
Raffaella Lupinacci (Romeo) and Leonor Bonilla (Giulietta)
© Fabrizio Sansoni

Opera buffs may know Nicola Vaccai as one of the last composers of the Neapolitan School: he was a pupil of Paisiello and almost contemporary to Rossini, and was well known in his time, to the point that the last scene of his Giulietta e Romeo was taken to substitute the same scene in Bellini’s  I capuleti  ed i montecchi because the singers considered Vaccai's music greater than Bellini's. Vaccai’s opera was delivered in the courtyard of Palazzo Ducale in Martina Franca and was based upon the critical edition curated by musicologist Ilaria Narici in 1996 for the first and, until now, only staging of the opera in modern times.

Cecilia Lagorio's staging led to a beautiful, elegant and flawless performance. Ligorio’s reading got to the core of the story (the libretto was drawn by Felice Romani, at the time the star of librettists); the key, of course, is the love story between the two teenagers, but not a single moment of their love is happy as, from the curtain's rise, we could sense tragedy and death hovering over the stage. Many passages of the score have plenty of dark colours and slow tempi that give a perpetual sense of mourning.  

<i>Giulietta e Romeo</i> © Paolo Conserva
Giulietta e Romeo
© Paolo Conserva

Accordingly to the director’s concept, scenes, lights and costumes gave the production a gloomy touch. Costume designer Giuseppe Palella emphasised the mood by assigning the Capulets black clothes, while the Montecchi wore white. The fixed set created by Alessia Colosso was of great impact, with a transversal wall where in the first act there is the balcony to Giulietta’s bedroom, and in the second one is transformed into a cemetery.

In the cast of singers, Leonor Bonilla tackled Giulietta with an elegant and fluid soprano, and great acting skills. Her ornamentations were performed with solid technique and exquisite timbre. Leonardo Cortellazzi sang Capellio, Giulietta's father, in a smart interpretation. He was imposing both for his pleasant timbre and refined phrasing and diction. Paoletta Marrocu was a great Adele, Giulietta’s mother: she performed her role in a masterly way, with great vocal talent and poignant expressiveness.

Leonor Bonilla (Giulietta) © Fabrizio Sansoni
Leonor Bonilla (Giulietta)
© Fabrizio Sansoni

Raffaella Lupinacci, currently one of the most appreciated mezzo-sopranos in Italy, was an excellent Romeo. Her timbre may not have been as dark as requested by the score, as hers is lighter, but she possesses a beautiful vocal colour, and rendered her role with a great deal of nuance. Vasa Stajkic was not as convincing as Tebaldo, better in terms of stage presence than in some faultiness in his vocal line. Christian Senn was confident and impressive in the role of Lorenzo. The Orchestra of the Accademia Teatro alla Scala conducted by Sesto Quatrini conveyed precision of details along with dramatic strength and tension.

****1