I Capuleti e i Montecchi – Act I (Horne, 1977)

The same year she sang Tancredi in Rome, mezzo extraordinaire Marilyn Horne sang Romeo1 in Bellini’s take on Romeo and Juliet. Horne sings both these male heroes in a similar manner2 and that manner benefits Tancredi rather than Romeo. Horne sounds like a trumpet throughout this recording, which is not exactly how I see this young, hopelessly romantic chap.

  • Romeo: Marilyn Horne capmonte
  • Giulietta: Linda Zoghby
  • Capellio: Nicola Zaccaria
  • Tebaldo: Antonio Savastano
  • Lorenzo: John West

Conductor: Nicola Rescigno | Dallas Symphony Orchestra | 21/11/1977

The sound of this (audience) recording is quite poor but given it was 1977 I’m not going to be overly critical. It’s sometimes better to have something than nothing at all.

Capuleti is one of my top favourite operas. Considering the grand spectacle opera can be, I’m fond of smaller scale works with only a few characters and a very clear narrative. Romani did away with all the extraneous plots and focused only on what Romeo and Giulietta were up to that fateful day.

Act I

The overture: this is a chipper, timpani-happy number. A sense of excitement runs through it. There’s only a smattering of foreboding. Unfortunately, the bootlegger was sat away from the timpani so there’s not a lot to be heard. On the other hand, the tempo isn’t bad.

A giorna apena chorus: Bellini is one of them tricky ones who lets you play with rubbato for better or worse. Done right – as in this case – it’s very exciting.

O, di Capellio…: Savastano’s Tebaldo sounds manly and very capable of holding his own in battle. Nicola Zaccaria once again plays Horne’s enemy, this time as the arch-villain Capellio.

E serbata a questo acciaro/L’amo tanto: Tebaldo declares his love for Giulietta and offers to avenge the death of Capellio’s son in exchange for Giulietta’s hand. L’amo tanto is a proper tearjerker in which Tebaldo shows us just what a noble-hearted lover he is, whilst the choir and Capellio urge him to avenge the blood spilled by Romeo. Savastano has no problems with the high tessitura and I like his tone but he milks the schmaltz for all its worth, complete with long belted ending note, which I don’t find very tasteful3.

Il nemic’orator: Romeo shows up in disguise as his own envoy and a mean sounding Capellio asks his allies if they want to hear him. Everybody agrees against peace. We feel for Romeo.

Lieto del dolce incarco/Se Romeo…/La tremenda ultrice spada: seeing as how this opera is about him, Romeo (as the envoy) gets plenty of opportunity to show off both his soulful and his tough side. He starts off very diplomatically with his offer of peace then apologises for the (accidental) death of Capellio’s son. Very generously – he thinks – he offers “his lord” as a substitute son to Capellio, that is, as a husband to Giulietta. Capellio scoffs at him and informs him he has already found another son. What’s more, neither he or his allies are interested in peace. Tebaldo pitches in and mocks “the envoy”. Romeo finally flips and tells everybody to fuck off in the great bravado cabaletta that is La tremenda ultrice spada. The cabaletta is slower than usual, possibly because of Horne’s fondness for using the slowest tempo possible when making a solid point. However, unlike Tancredi, Romeo is a mere teenager and he would be foaming at the mouth right about now. You feel like Tebaldo, with his Italian tenor abandon, is the younger of the two – that’s how in control this Romeo sounds. The good thing is Horne deploys some impressive chest notes throughout the very long entrance.

Eccomi…/O, quante volte: Zoghby’s Giulietta also sounds older, which she might as well, given that this Romeo isn’t a kid. The recit comes off rather hysterical, although the words are sarcastic and bitter. This recit and aria has long been butchered by lyric soprano hopefuls in competitions and on stage, who all4 think they know Giulietta because they have been in love.

A, mia Giulietta!: I really want Horne to lose it at least once. Giulietta sounds tired when she asks Fuggire?! Che recchi? and Romeo sounds cheerful when he answers Si, fuggire! like he was asking Giulietta to break her curfew and go to a drive-in movie and not to elope with him with no clear prospects for the future. Yet this is the same Romeo who kept his cool in a roomful of hostile Capuleti. He finally gets more emotional at Ah, crudele, d’onor raggioni quando a me tu sei rapita, which is the most heartbreaking part of the duet. Horne understands what she’s singing but she’s not the most expressive singer and this part benefits from subtlety in handling Romeo’s internal conflict. Zoghby dips into hysterics again. In spite of the missed drama, they sound good together and the ending comes off best.

Odi tu? L’altaro funesto gia s’infiora: I’m very fond of this rubbato-happy bit, as aside from writing a sublimely melodic passage, Bellini creates an effective light/dark contrast by weaving dancey wedding music in the background and more dramatic instrumentation for the lovers’ continuing duty/love verbal sparring. Then he mashes them together as Romeo’s heartfelt pleas5 and Giulietta’s apprehension go on a crescendo. Romeo’s sudden dark and slow No, crudel, non hai pieta brings things almost to a halt. Giulietta lightens up the mood by sweetly asking him to understand her position. Horne has no problem with the high tessitura but this is one of those places where the trumpet-like tone of her voice doesn’t work for me. However, her bad-ass chest notes on the above No, crudel… almost make up for it. Almost, as Horne’s Romeo sounds more annoyed than hurt.

Act I finale: the wedding music comes to the foreground. The preparations for the nuptials have been going on whilst our lovers bickered6. Lorenzo recognises Romeo dressed as a Capuleti wedding guest. Apparently after failing to convince his girl to elope Romeo dashed off to open the gates of Verona for his stand-by men. On cue the Montecchi come crashing the wedding, having surprised the unarmed Capuleti (pwnage!). All hell breaks loose with great panache from the chorus, horns and trumpets, although I feel it could have come out even more hectic.

We cut to Giulietta alone in her cell room, worrying about the outcome of the kerfuffle. Zoghy’s Giulietta keeps failing to engage me emotionally. Romeo makes it back to hers and they start where they left off. Unfortunately, the Capuleti were on his tail and they are discovered. Capellio, Tebaldo & all are  not particularly bright; everybody is confused as to why the Monetcchi envoy is chatting Giulietta up. It’s left to Romeo to give himself away and he obliges out of stupid pride – so as to stick it to Tebaldo. Only then it dawns on him that he got Giulietta in deep shit. Oops. Tebaldo sounds particularly emotional upon hearing the news whilst Romeo continues with his smart-arse tone.


  1. A role she sang as far back as 1971 (that I know of). 
  2. That is to say, as mature, deliberate, strong, manly men. But Romeo is a hothead kid in love, not a seasoned warrior. 
  3. He does “the Italian tenor in full cry”, as Forman says; it’s the sound that causes middle-aged female fans to throw their knickers on stage, the very same that made Pavarotti a superstar. 
  4. But how many of them were raised to put duty before feelings? 
  5. Giulietta has been so brainwashed she needs a ridiculous amount of convincing 
  6. I want to see a production where they show cakes, roasted piglets with apples in the mouth etc. being laid on tables during this chipper bit. And during the kerfuffle I want said edibles to be flung about. 
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About dehggial

opera lover with a predilection for Mozart and Baroque

Posted on December 14, 2013, in bellini, mezzos & contraltos and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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