Antony Gormley, Matter, 1987, black pigment, linseed oil and earth on paper, 38 × 28 cm, © the artist
About the Production

‘This farewell will not be our last…’

Vincenzo Bellini had already made a name for himself
far beyond Italy’s borders
when the Teatro La Fenice engaged him in January 1830 to produce a new opera for the current carnival season — within just a few weeks. With I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Bellini entered into his artistic prime, demonstrating that he had now found his true personal style — a style which pursued the vision of music ‘that expresses the words scrupulously’, and gave birth to melodies of exquisite beauty and great dramatic expressiveness. The degree to which the vocal lines capture precisely each nuance of the text can be heard particularly in the final scene — Romeo’s suicide beside Giulietta, whom he believes to be dead but who then slowly reawakens. Departing from the convention of an aria finale, Bellini relied on the effect of an extended accompagnato recitative in which are embedded arioso passages, an arietta and an equally brief duet. The scene is all the more profoundly moving for being kept so spare.
In assigning the role of the male protagonist to a mezzo-soprano, Bellini was following in the footsteps of earlier Italian Romeo and Juliet operas. Some found this tradition outmoded, but it has an undeniable appeal. Casting two women as the lovers enabled Bellini to entwine their voices, and also to meld them into true consonance. Thus at the end of the finale of Act I, offset against the male chorus of their feuding families, Romeo and Giulietta sing a melody in unison that even overwhelmed Berlioz, who was by no means an admirer of Bellini: ‘The two voices sounding as one, symbolizing perfect union, give the melody an extraordinary force and bold impetus. I was carried away in spite of myself and applauded enthusiastically.’

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