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

Recently I noticed some unexpected interest in my post on Act I of Horne’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, which caused me to feel bad about never finishing talking about that boot. At long last, here is Act II.

  • 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

Act II starts with my not so favourite Giulietta lamenting yet again. Lorenzo tells she’ll be forced into marrying Tebaldo if she doesn’t take action pronto. She says she’ll do anything. He gives her the paralyzing potion which will fool her non-medically astute relatives into believing her dead. Rather cruel joke on your folks, eh? But then they have no qualms about shipping her off to some dude just so her brother’s death could be avenged… Tough life for 19th century heroines. Anyway, I don’t believe this clawless kitten of a Giulietta would take the potion. Of course she does, it’s in the libretto.

The meat and potatoes of this opera are Romeo and Giulietta’s duets, about which, upon re-reading my earlier post, I seem to have been rather critical1. Maybe I need to listen to Act I again, because I really enjoyed the next best thing, which is Romeo and Tebaldo’s one and only duet:

Deserto e il luogo/Arresta! – Qual mesto suon echeggia?: considering the many recent coincidences, old fox Capellio isn’t so sure Lorenzo had no hand in Giulietta’s “timely” death so he has him watched. Reason for which Lorenzo can’t get in touch with Romeo. Romeo, ever so anxious to get the business of eloping done with, returns to Capellio’s mansion on his own. Bellini went to some trouble in illustrating the deserted feeling of the spot and Romeo’s confusion with a bit of clarinet solo. It makes me think of ivy covered walls, olive groves and crumbling gravestones. Horne pulls some lovely top notes for Romeo’s wistful solo here. Savastano’s blunt Tebaldo shows up and Horne smoothly switches to her menacing chest notes. Really cool contrast, well done. This is one of those very elaborate duets that covers a lot of emotional ground:

Firstly, Romeo and Tebaldo snarl at each other to staccato notes. Savastano does arrogance very well. Tebaldo and Romeo threaten each other by turns in another one of those most satisfying fist pumping musical moments. Horne throws in a nunchack of a trill and you can imagine Tebaldo wincing. Rescigno gives them bombastic backing and they cross swords.

In the middle of it, Giulietta’s funeral rolls by. Bellini’s beloved soft-sounding choir drips a trademark heart-wrenching song telling of Giulietta’s misfortune. In a sudden but skillful change of key, both chaps lose their cockiness. Now they try to outdo each other in who’s more heartbroken (albeit to superbly melodic  – and even upbeat at its climax – music I can’t ever help humming along to):

Romeo: Kill me, life has no meaning without Giulietta.
Tebaldo: No, you kill me! I’m too heartbroken to live.
Romeo: It’s your fault!
Tebaldo: Kill me.
Romeo: I can’t live either.

Both go through this complex moment very well, but Horne is a few notches better. She does an excellent job at expressing surprise at Giulietta’s death then horror then that mad bravery in the face of danger/death so specific to Romeo.

It’s an odd moment, as they don’t go through with falling into each other’s sword. We don’t know what they actually do. Shake hands and go their respective ways? Run away in anguish, like Romantic heroes are wont to? Probably. Tebaldo most likely needs to be at Giulietta’s funeral. Romeo obviously can’t.

But later on, when the night falls and the moon hides behind a heavy cloud and the silent olive groves echo with owls’ lugubrious cries, he makes his way to the Capuleti mausoleum. He’s followed there by his men2 (aka, the gentle choir) who seem all too aware of his dark mood3.

Ecco la tomba: beautiful “mossy” intro. I can see Romeo descend the cold marble stairs into the mausoleum. It smells of fresh earth and damp. Romeo pries the casket open. A harp solo expresses how beautiful Giulietta still looks (you know it was an open casket funeral). Romeo laments his fate. Horne loves these desolation recits (see Tancredi) and does this one with gusto and even some delicacy. Not bad at all.

O, tu mia sola speme, tosco fatal: Romeo goes off the rails a bit here but not OTT. He’s gentle and devastated heroic rather than irate. Horne’s bad-ass chest notes return. Romeo notices the irony of his life ending in his enemies’ final resting place.

Cruel fate wants it so that Giulietta wakes up just after he ingests the poison. She’s ecstatic (by which Zoghby means a bit more energetic than before) to see him and tells him she’s found the courage to leave her family and run off with him. In a dark, bitter (but not heart-wrenchingly so) tone, Romeo says it’s now him who can’t follow. He will forever remain in this place. Giulietta senses something horrible is afoot. He’s used all the poison, there isn’t any left for her. The horror! It’s now time for one last gentle, heartfelt love duet. Noble, loving Romeo says she needs to go on living whilst Giulietta says there can’t be life for her without him etc. Zoghby remains uninteresting to me even though her end phrase is delivered with skill.

As tragic recit endings go I like this one better than the one in Tancredi, maybe because there’s more tragedy in Bellini. Even so, by contemporary standards it’s not that dark. As singing goes, I was more critical of Horne back in December (exactly 7 months ago!). Now I think she did really well, at least in Act II. What I think made me critical back then is the feel of her voice. It’s not a tragic early 19th century voice, if you see what I mean. It’s more of a smart-arse 18th century voice – at least to me. What I mean by a tragic early 19th century voice is one that would be more evocative of that moss and ivy and crumbling gravestones I was talking about earlier. What can I say? I have a bit of a fondness for early Romantic imagery… bring on the vampires and the ghouls. And mad bravery. Not so much the helpless damsels, though.

  1. Probably because I like them so much. Sometimes I think Horne sounds better in duets with men even when she’s singing a chap. 
  2. You’d think the Capuleti would have had some men standing guard so soon after the funeral… 
  3. This bit confused me as it’s some alternate version plus a scene is cut between Ecco la tomba and O, tu mia sola speme…. which means there’s no Deh, tu bell’anima, much to my chagrin. There is a further cut at the very end, where the Capuleti are supposed to arrive at the tomb and be told off by Giulietta before her own final breath. I think that scene gets cut off all the time as it’s indeed a bit superfluous. 

About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on July 14, 2014, in belcanto, bellini and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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