views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Peckham Asylum
2nd April 2017

★★★☆☆

Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet. Boy meets girl, they marry on the quiet (which is a bit questionable in today's context given the assumed age gap ) and they then both die. It's not exactly the stuff of which Disney fairy tales are made, so you can understand the serious tone in I Capuleti e i Montecchi. A joint suicide is pretty damn tragic, I'll give them that. However, Pop Up Opera are a company who have forged an unrivalled reputation for top notch opera based on their natural flair for the comedic and this choice of production doesn't play to their strengths. The tone here makes sense, the singers hit all the right notes and yet as perfect as the musical element is, stage director James Hurley doesn't keep up with musical director Berrak Dyer and rather than this being an exceptional piece of opera, I Capuleti e i Montecchi is merely a good production with the company not living up to their previous (admittedly crazily high) standards.

The usual silent movie-esque captions are significantly pared back, with many of the projected subtitles merely a faithful account of what is being sung in Italian, together with a straight English translation. Anyone who has ever spent at least 10 seconds in the company of the captions writer Harry Percival will note the distinct lack of his gloriously warm and funny personality shining through and this is disappointing. The few attempted jokes are half-hearted and if anything slightly jarring; it feels as if Percival has been told to reign it in and his character always contributed hugely to the company's inclusive and accessible feel, even if he was never physically present on stage. If there's a learning point for the next show, it's let Percival loose to jot down whatever pops into his head.

Much of the storyline is explained in the captions, which reinforces a sense of fast-forwarding through a story quickly and missing a lot of background. The issue with this is if you cannot see the screen well from your seat, linking together the live action isn't particularly intuitive. In Vincenzo Bellini's alternative to the Bard's stage place (note, alternative not rip off), lovers Romeo (Flora McIntosh) and Giulietta (Alice Privett) are conducting an affair in secret due to Giulietta's father, Cappellio (Andrew Tipple), being not unreasonably angry at Romeo due to him having killed his son. Things get messy with Cappellio having lined up a replacement suitor for his daughter in the form of Tebaldo (Cliff Zammit-Stevens). Lorenzo (Richard Immerglück) does his best to help the unhappy couple, but we all know how things play out for them.

Privett stands out from the other singers due to imbuing much more emotion into her acting and overall performance. The narrative moves at a confusingly rapid pace, but we always understand Giulietta's heartache and anguish due to Privett's delicate and haunting delivery. Her character also comes across as just inherently more likeable, with McIntosh's Romeo less of the world's best lover and more of a whiny and overly intense partner. Rarely is McIntosh's face not contorted into a grimace of some sort - the passion normally expressed by the young lover is transformed into bucket loads of angst, rearranging the -meo in Romeo to emo.

The acoustics of The Ayslum lend themselves wonderfully to the production and as already stated, the music in isolation is superb. You cannot fault any of the vocals or Dyer's accompaniment on keys. Close your eyes and the majesty of the piece will transcend all of its flaws. There is an awful lot to admire and in many ways, it does feel like we're being picky, but we know this company can do much better than this and we hope to see a return to form soon.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi ran on 2nd April 2017 at Peckham Asylum before touring.

Nearest station: Queens Road Peckham (Overground)



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