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BWW Reviews: San Francisco Opera's New CAPULETS AND THE MONTAGUES is Breathtaking


Vincenzo Bellini's opera based on "Romeo and Juliet" does not follow the traditional Shakespeare plot, so it seems appropriate that the San Francisco Opera production, too, should veer away from traditional sets and costumes and create a world of its own.

As the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet is timeless, the current bay area production of "The Capulets and the Montagues" takes place within a time of its own. While Vincent Lemaire's minimal sets don't always make sense, they never fail to draw audiences in with their overwhelming artistic look highlighted by Guido Levi's gorgeous lighting. Horse bridles hang from the ceiling. A giant framework creates the illusion of the many steps of a castle. Angular pieces create the perfect evening sunset. And a constant backdrop creates the tense, war-like atmosphere as the two families, the Montagues and the Capulets, fight with the stubborn pride. That pride, of course, leads to the tragic deaths of the ill-fated lovers, Romeo and Giulietta, each from opposite sides of the feud. 

The story stays mostly true to the Shakespeare classic, but shows audiences scenes, characters and plot elements not found in the original. Bellini's lush score stirs hearts as an amazing cast of singers tightens the opera's grip on all who watch. Audiences may easily expect amazing vocals from an opera company as well known as San Francisco's, but the five principles of "The Capulets and the Montagues" exude passion and triumph with beautiful, moving acting along with every fantastic note sung.

Nicole Cabell plays a Giulietta torn between love and loyalty to her family. With incredible physical stamina, Cabell changes with her character, from innocence driven mad to love in its maturity. As Romeo, Joyce DiDonato pleads with Giulietta to run away and elope, stating he will die if he cannot marry his true love.  Ao Li makes a relatable physician and friend of both lovers. Saimir Pirgu makes a wonderful "love-to-hate" villain as the sensitive Tebaldo, caught up in his family's war, but also madly in love with and loyal to Giulietta. And Eric Owens stays penetratingly immovable as Giulietta's father, Capellio.

San Francisco Opera's fairly new production, a partnership with Munich's Bavarian State Opera, engages audiences on every level. Every artistic choice made for this production enhances an experience already made perfect by Bellini's music and San Francisco Opera's breathtaking cast.  

San Francisco Opera
Oct 14, 16, 19

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler