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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 20 December 2012
Given that this is a relatively minor work, prospective buyers are now spoilt for choice and selection will probably depend upon a personal preference in voices, given that nearly all the options have their merits. Apart from several excellent studio versions there are live performances from Muti with Baltsa and Gruberova and another in more venerable sound but with a dream-team of Pavarotti and Aragall, where of course Romeo is transposed from mezzo-soprano to tenor and as such is hardly authentic.

My preference is for this set, expertly conducted by Runnicles, recorded in superb sound and starring two favourite singers but I can well understand why others might go for recordings featuring Kasarova, Garanca or Baltsa as Romeo. Personally I find Eva Mei and Edita Gruberova unpalatable a Giulietta and I'm not a great Netrebko fan but that's just my taste. Hei-Kyung Hong is delightful here: agile, pure but rounded of tone and a great foil to Larmore with whom she has made a wonderful duets album for Teldec, too. The supporting Scottish forces acquit themselves admirably under Runnicles and everyone's Italian diction is first-rate.

It's not perfect: pleasant, capable tenor Paul Groves is not very charismatic as Tebaldo compared with the competition; he sings neatly, if a tad palely. A big bonus is veteran bass Robert Lloyd as Lorenzo (the Friar Lawrence role but virtually unrecognisable in Romani's libretto which owes virtually nothing to Shakespeare but rather mines other Italian novella sources) but the Capelio here is gritty and clumsy of voice. The star is Jennifer Larmore, typically animated and "virile" in the breeches role, her coloratura and divisions flawless, her top notes ringing and thrilling.

Bear in mind that this is, in the end, for all its beauties, not the best of Bellini's sadly truncated oeuvre. Nearly three-quarters of the music was recycled from "Zaira" and Giulietta's entrance aria was lifted from "Adelson e Salvini" owing to Bellini having to work under extreme pressure of time - seven weeks, in fact. It is not for nothing that Malibran used to substitute the last scene from Vaccai's opera to the same libretto for Bellini's, but the best of the music displays the ravishing long cantilena line that was virtually Bellini's invention.

This is now available in a bargain set but I recommend the older issue which has lovely artwork, a full essay and a libretto.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 20 December 2012
Given that this is a relatively minor work, prospective buyers are now spoilt for choice and selection will probably depend upon a personal preference in voices, given that nearly all the options have their merits. Apart from several excellent studio versions there are live performances from Muti with Baltsa and Gruberova and another in more venerable sound but with a dream-team of Pavarotti and Aragall, where of course Romeo is transposed from mezzo-soprano to tenor and as such is hardly authentic.

My preference is for this set, expertly conducted by Runnicles, recorded in superb sound and starring two favourite singers but I can well understand why others might go for recordings featuring Kasarova, Garanca or Baltsa as Romeo. Personally I find Eva Mei and Edita Gruberova unpalatable a Giulietta and I'm not a great Netrebko fan but that's just my taste. Hei-Kyung Hong is delightful here: agile, pure but rounded of tone and a great foil to Larmore with whom she has made a wonderful duets album for Teldec, too. The supporting Scottish forces acquit themselves admirably under Runnicles and everyone's Italian diction is first-rate.

It's not perfect: pleasant, capable tenor Paul Groves is not very charismatic as Tebaldo compared with the competition; he sings neatly, if a tad palely. A big bonus is veteran bass Robert Lloyd as Lorenzo (the Friar Lawrence role but virtually unrecognisable in Romani's libretto which owes virtually nothing to Shakespeare but rather mines other Italian novella sources) but the Capelio here is gritty and clumsy of voice. The star is Jennifer Larmore, typically animated and "virile" in the breeches role, her coloratura and divisions flawless, her top notes ringing and thrilling.

Bear in mind that this is, in the end, for all its beauties, not the best of Bellini's sadly truncated oeuvre. Nearly three-quarters of the music was recycled from "Zaira" and Giulietta's entrance aria was lifted from "Adelson e Salvini" owing to Bellini having to work under extreme pressure of time - seven weeks, in fact. It is not for nothing that Malibran used to substitute the last scene from Vaccai's opera to the same libretto for Bellini's, but the best of the music displays the ravishing long cantilena line that was virtually Bellini's invention.

This is now available in a bargain set but I recommend the older issue which has lovely artwork, a full essay and a libretto.
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on 21 May 2001
This opera by Bellini is rather unknown. Luckily, a recent production at the Los Angeles Opera has put is in the limelights, though the absence of a video or DVD recording is definitely a handicap for the audience, because this opera is absolutely fabulous.
At first I was surprised by the choice of a soprano for Romeo. But The opera is built to use this fact at the highest level possible. The duets between Romeo and Juliet come to a perfect blending of the voices, the couple becoming one, and that is a marvelous way of expressing this total and unbreakable love that unifies them two. But the duets between Romeo and Tybalt are also enhanced by this fact because then we have the rivalry between the two characters expressed by the opposition between the soprano and the tenor.
Bellini slightly betrays Shakespeare. Romeo is the real head of the fighting Montagues, and Tybalt is the same on the Capulet side. Romeo has killed Juliet's brother. Yet Romeo and Juliet are deeply in love, but Tybalt is also deeply un love with Juliet, though she does not respond to this love. The rivalry between the two families is thus reduced and at the same time multiplied because of the two men who love the same woman. The dramatic tension is strengthened by this simple fact. We are no longer in a fight between two families, but between two lovers. The feelings and sentiments are thus extremely more powerful. And then we understand the choice of a soprano for Romeo. Tybalt is the one who is trying to break, unknowingly at first, the love between Romeo and Juliet.
The music is very surprising in some pieces. The use of brass instruments at the beginning or here and there does not evoke a war, but rather a hunting party. Yet in the love scenes, the really dramatic scenes in the opera, the music gets to either a tremendous delicacy to express the beauty of the feelings (the use of a guitar for instance) or a phenomenal tension. The singing itself is as pure and multifarious as the tortured and split loyalties of Romeo or Juliet, especially Juliet, or Tybalt require. Pure because of the voices, because of the solos, but also because of the very precise and accurate composition of the duets or the chorus. Multifarious because no two scenes have the same coloration. We feel the evolution of the drama, of the questioning in the minds and hearts of the characters due to these slight changes in the music from one scene to the next.
An expert would probably hear now and then an echo of Mozart or some other great opera composers, but it is only an evanescent echo when it happens, a couple or very small number of notes, or even nothing but a tone, a chord that sounds like coming from somewhere else, but it is so well blended in the whole that it sounds just perfect, not one note too many, not one variation too many, just the right number of notes and words, just perfect. So the death of Romeo and Juliet becomes all the more volcanic, heavy and fiery, because of those changes in the plot and because of those perfect notes and arias. This opera deserves a better coverage in our musical culture.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, Paris Universities II and IX.
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