In both Leonore and this, the set (Francis O’Connor for Leonore, Yannis Thavoris for I Capuleti) sensibly encloses the stage, reflecting sound out of it. And in I Capuleti e i Montecchi what lovely sounds! It’s a bel canto opera, and in Stephanie Marshall (Romeo) and Sarah-Jane Brandon (Giuletta) Buxton has hired voices fit for purpose. Their voices shone individually and blended in their duets, from the great first act climax, with exciting and poised singing from both and cadenzas as skilfully acted as sung (no stopping to think about the notes here). The latter demonstrated excellent control of mezza voce and real emotional presence, and the former was in warm, full voice through to the final scene.
There are only three other principals in this version of the story (we begin where Romeo has killed Juliet’s brother, and the two families are at daggers – and pistols – drawn). Jonathan Best sang Capellio (Giuletta’s father) with his customary incisiveness and dominance of the stage; Luis Gomes brought an unstrained high tenor timbre to Tebaldo (the man she’s meant to marry); Lorenzo is both priest and soldier and, though something of a stooge to Capellio in plot terms, was finely sung by Julian Tovey.
Justin Doyle – shortly to become chief conductor and artistic director of the RIAS Kammerchor and well known for his work with Opera North and elsewhere – piloted the opera with a sure hand, with flexible and energetic rhythms and some beautiful instrumental solos from the NCO (the principal horn and harp in Giuletta’s O quante volte, in particular). The festival male chorus were again very strong, and well abetted by more girls in uniform.
Harry Fehr’s gifts as director are not new to us in this part of the country. He sets the opera in the present day in some Balkanised, divided nation where warlords rule, and provides movement and action whenever the score requires it (and, in its leisurely cavatina introductions such as the one for Romeo’s Crudel Lorenzo, it does), and sometimes as a bonus.
There’s a very good fight for Romeo and Tebaldo (Paul Benzing), and these star-cross’d lovers know how to die while singing like angels.