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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