SFOpera - Director’s Note for The Capulets and the Montagues

Director’s Note for The Capulets and the Montagues

Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi is possibly the shortest and most striking version of the story of the lovers of Verona. Bellini’s libretto was not inspired by Shakespeare, but by the source material that Shakespeare used. The spirit of the piece is more about the nineteenth-century obsessions of a young Italian composer than about any Elizabethan ghosts, and it is well known that Bellini composed the opera in a very short time for the Venice Carnival.

Because of the famous context of the war between these two families, the piece is full of accents of extreme cruelty and desperation. Nevertheless, this darkness is mitigated by the highest degree of elegance and clarity when Bellini’s music centers on the fragility of love. The tension between the refinement of the composition and the cruel blindness of the protagonists make I Capuleti e i Montecchi a masterpiece, giving the main characters a true depth of soul. Both Romeo and Giulietta take part in the fever of the darkness, but their souls go irresistibly towards the light—the only place where they can meet forever.

Joyce DiDonato as RomeoJoyce DiDonato as Romeo (center) in San Francisco Opera’s 2012 production of Bellini’s The Capulets and The Montagues. Photo: Cory Weaver.

We designed the production and the costumes, which function mainly to reveal the hidden and fragile interior of the characters, as an echo to the highly refined compositional style of the music. The set acts as if a reminiscence of the most elaborate fresco would be sweating from the walls of this palace—a box for Capellio’s “Jewel-lietta,” but also a jail and a grave for the two young lovers.

The question we are left contemplating is the following: is it possible that even the highest degree of love and the most refined culture are left utterly crippled when coupled with the cruelty and craziness of people sick with revenge?

Note: This essay was published in a 2012 edition of San Francisco Opera Magazine.

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