I Capuleti e i Montecchi

The Times by Anna Picard

I Capuleti e i Montecchi

****

No ball, no balcony, and instead of a vendetta, a civil war. Buxton Festival’s nod to Shakespeare 400 is typically oblique. Bellini’s compact tragedy I Capuleti e i Montecchi was based not on Romeo and Juliet but Luigi Scevola’s dramatisation of the 16th-century source material, Giulietta e Romeo.

Set in a room in a palazzo converted into a military compound (designs by Yannis Thavoris), Harry Fehr’s tense, modern-dress production opens with a scene of public and private mourning. Capellio (Jonathan Best), commander of the ruling Guelphs, sits in vigil by the flag-draped coffin of his son. His daughter Giulietta (Sarah-Jane Brandon) has been compelled to marry Tebaldo (Luis Gomes) that day. Only the chaplain Lorenzo (Julian Tovey) knows that Giulietta is in love with Romeo (Stephanie Marshall), leader of the Ghibelline insurgents.

Anxiety and intoxication alternate in the score. Deftly choreographed, Buxton’s chorus of 16 suggests a far greater number of soldiers and rebel forces, their movements quick, decisive and violent, their singing clean, with a rapt off-stage Pace alla tua bell’amina. Brandon’s softness of movement and gesture is beautifully contrasted with Marshall’s ardent, boyish energy, their voices blending perfectly in duet and with Gomes, and in the a cappella ensemble in the finale of Act II.

Under Justin Doyle’s direction the Northern Chamber Orchestra deliver a heated overture, easing into elegantly arpeggiated accompaniments. Although Best and Tovey lack spin, the singing of Brandon, Marshall and Gomes is idiomatic, intelligent and expressive.