BWW Review: I CAPULETI E I MONTECCHI, Grimeborn, Arcola Theatre
You will have noticed that the spelling isn't "Capulets and Montagues" because this isn't exactly the Brummie Bard's tale, it's Vincenzo Bellini's (and his librettist Felice Romani) and it's very Italian indeed. The plot is familiar of course, but you keep getting knocked off balance as little wrinkles emerge betraying its local source material and the passion cranks up a notch or two, just when you thought that there was nowhere else to go.
So, with our Giulietta reading from Shakey's text and then being whisked to Verona as one of the star-crossed lovers, she knows her fate and we do too. But what a ride it is getting to that tragic tomb with its poisons and dagger.
Director, Lysanne van Overbeek, is confident enough to (largely) ignore the limitations of the small downstairs space with its acoustically unforgiving brick walls and low ceiling, and just lets the singers sing, the voices filling our cave like a skilled Tetris player. Though the music can often be too loud in fringe venues, there is never such problems for voices and, even if Kelvin Lim plays his piano with great sensitivity, this show is about the voices - and what voices!
James Ioelu's bass-baritone is full of menace as Capellio, Giulietta's father and capo of the Capuleti, a man grieving a son fallen at Romeo's hand and (understandably) determined to favour Anthony Flaum's impetuous Tebaldo over the killer. Flaum may possess a sweet tenor, but here he's a bit of a toady to Capellio and no match for Romeo's street-smarts.
Pauls Putnins' Lorenzo is the mediator, a friend to Romeo in the enemy's house, a man who tries to find a route to bring happiness to Giulietta and avoid war, but whose plans prove too clever by half. When he joins Ioelu and Flaum in a chorus, the room shakes!
Chiara Vinci gets all Giulietta's anguish into her soprano, bemused, betrayed and ultimately bewildered by the cruelty of fate, her Romeo snatched from her by the same headstrong will that got him to her in the first place.
Flora McIntosh is extraordinary in the trouser role of Romeo, prowling, a half-smile never far from her lips, the alphaist alpha male in the cage. If her physical appearance hardly matches that description, her voice more than makes up for it, its visceral power searing into our souls from such close quarters. Committing to the concept completely pays off wonderfully well in a magnificent performance.
For all the intensity such proximity brings, it also raises the entirely unfair question of what a full orchestra might do with the score, how these voices would work with more than just a piano.
That said, this is a highlight of another fine Grimeborn season at The Arcola that has shown, yet again, that boutique operas are an entirely accessible art form, thrilling in their execution and an adornment to London's theatre scene that many who cannot afford West End prices or can't plan far enough ahead to secure blockbuster show tickets, should consider for night out. Singing, passion and great tunes - what's not to like?
Photo by Lida Crisafulli