Bern scene | May 24, 2022
Berne puts on its last musical production this season with Vincenzo Bellini’s bel canto jewel. Director David Hermann can do this and has a clear idea for this version of Romeo and Juliet. It is based on reading Barrie Kosky and his famous “Macbeth” for Zurich. But Hermann’s view has pitfalls, the engine crashes. While the soloists, especially the mezzo-soprano Evgenia Asanova, make an impression, BSO under the baton of Sebastian Schwab has too much power and therefore it is above all one – loud.
Bellini’s I Capuleti ei Montecchi, directed by David Hermann, is a dark matter in Bern.Photos: Tanja Dorendorf
It’s a sunny early summer day, it’s 28 degrees outside and it’s been bright for a long time, but director David Hermann carries the guests of Bellini’s “I Capuleti ei Montecchi” premiere into a dark shaft that tapers into a wedge at the end of the stage. This escape room is distinguished by a strong, partially transparent curtain fabric that extends up to the ceiling. It is also not difficult to recognize the nave in it, because almost all characters in this play are believers, even if it was the consecration of capsulets to his patriarch Capellio. The submissive attitude is also revealed in mafia gang mice costumes, in which Axel Aust skillfully uses black and white aesthetics.
Vincenzo Bellini composed the music for the history of Romeo and Juliet in 1830 for Teatro La Fenice in Venice, where the piece was first performed under the title “I Capuleti ei Montecchi”. A year later, the native Sicilian achieved the greatest success thanks to “Norma”. Felice Romani did not compose a libretto for the most famous love story of two Verona artists after Shakespeare, he went further back to the source and used a novel by Matteo Bandellos. This is how Bellini’s opera plays out in the 13th century. In Bern this is not the case, the plot is rather outdated, with a cool aesthetic and vague symbolism that does not detract from the authenticity.
The only option is to run, but Giulietta (Giada Borrelli) hesitates too long before answering Romeo (Evgenia Asanova )’s call.
However, die-hard opera lovers suspect it from the very beginning: in the gloomy, dark scenery, little will change until the dramatic ending of the two-act performance. It was the same with Barrie Kosky’s “Macbeth”, but the director still provided three hours of high tension. On the other hand, in reading Hermann, the first weaknesses become noticeable after just 20 minutes. Is it because, unlike Verdi’s opera, Bellini’s charming composition lacks expressive arias? Or maybe the canyons of the dark scene just before the beginning of summer are not a good starting point? Efforts by David Hermann and assistant Kathrin Elmiger to bring variety into action seem hasty and not always thought out.
Romeo is cooking
You have to revive the almost empty stage of Bettina Meyer. Curtains have the irresistible feature that they are constantly draped or hidden behind them. And that’s what the band does in opera all the time: not always with intelligible logic. The moment when the shiny, clean, equipped kitchen of the “Schöner Wohnen” appears and Romeo is getting ready to cook for her beloved is downright grotesque. The spaghetti alla verdura style break is disturbing because on the one hand it is funny and on the other it does not fit the picture.
Evgenia Asanova captures everyone
Romeo’s title role is well cast with Evgenia Asanova. Her protagonist in pants is a seemingly fearless rebel who stands with his legs wide open and hides his uncertainty behind the smoke of a hastily smoked cigarette. The young man who killed Capellio’s son in battle and would like to marry his daughter as part of reconciliation with his family is an ambivalent gambler with Asanova and even has magical powers. Like Neo from the Matrix series, she can move objects and knock down unloved contemporaries with a single swipe. The mezzo-soprano captivates with its intense role design with full volume and dark shades that shimmer ruby red in the mid to lower range.
Main role for Matheus França
Giada Borrelli is Giulietta, a restless young woman who cannot decide whether to escape Romeo before she is forced to marry Tebaldo, or to do what Papa wants. Its bright soprano, tinged with metal, is confident in high notes and has springiness. On the other hand, Borrelli still sounds a bit scary in the tops. For Matheus França, the relentless Chauvi Capellio is the foremost role in which he can enrich his deep bass with a wave of anger. As his confidant Lorenzo, who also wants to help Giulietta out of trouble, Christian Valle’s bass sounds loud this evening but a bit monotonous. Even in a less nuanced game, Valle should turn up the atmosphere. One would like to hear more about Filipe Man as Tebaldo, because his azure tenor makes each cantilena shine beautifully, and his legate is of the highest class.
A marriage without mutual love is close and Giulietta (Giada Borrelli) is in despair.
In Hermann’s reading, the Bernese male stage choir, with its usual strong voices under the baton of Zsolt Czetner, also acts as animators: gentlemen in gray must counteract the rigid set design with great agility. The choreographer Jean-Philippe Guilois takes this a little too seriously, as hyperactive entries and spontaneous little dances often end up in pure slapstick. But David Hermann manages to make strong conclusions. The bright rectangle, which symbolically appears in different sizes during the action and can also be interpreted as a coffin, becomes an escape route to the afterlife for Romeo and Giulietta, and Bernhard Bieri provides the appropriate sparkling light.
Verdi instead of Bellini
Sebastian Schwab relies too much on loudness on the podium of the Bernese Symphony Orchestra and lets it play loud. In this way, Bellini’s elegant melodies and instrumental solos lose their brilliance, and the typical filigree drawings of the bel canto master are lost. Verdi is coming from the ditch, not his Sicilian compatriot. Schwab also manages to sound beautiful and intimate in the moments, and changes in pace are well controlled after initial stuttering and wobbling in the choir. Less heat would make a bel canto soufflé generally good.
White is doing better
The Bernese scenes end the season of musical theaters that began with Verdi’s “Don Carlos” – that is, dark and gloomy. After all, you may need a colorful bouquet to get viewers to decide on a new subscription. It is difficult to predict whether this will succeed with Hermann’s reminiscences for film noir. In any case, the trophy in this unintentional competition goes to the Orchester Biel Solothurn Theater and director Yves Lenoir, who from November 2021 brought his work to the stage in a more coherent and, above all, much more emotional way.
Peter’s cultural tip:
Vincenzo Bellini, Theater Bern, Stadttheater
George Frederick Hass
further performances until Sunday 19 June