If descending to the basement of foodie-destination restaurant Carousel felt like entering a Reservoir Dogs-style film set, that was entirely in keeping with the reimagining of the 13th century feud of the Capulets and the Montagues as a world of two rival Mafia gangs battling for control of Verona. The action seems to be set in the recent past – at least judging by the vintage of the mobile phones being wielded – and the concept works well enough, particularly with Romeo’s first appearance as a hooded captive being tortured and interrogated. However, the acting is occasionally rather stiff and laboured, particularly during the opening dumb show sequence.
Bellini’s opera, written in 1830, with libretto by Felice Romani, is not based on Shakespeare but on other Italian sources of the same story. The basic plot outline is similar, but in Bellini’s version the two lovers share a final duet, in the evening’s finest scene, before dying in each other’s arms.
This is an intimate performance of a relatively underperformed work, with generally fine singing throughout. Alice Privett (soprano) as Giulietta stood out for me, Cliff Zammit-Stevens (tenor) as Tebaldo was a little insecure early on in the higher register. Flora McIntosh (mezzo soprano) as Romeo emphasised the youthful vigour and bravado of her character, but at the expense of convincingly passionate love for Giulietta.
Occasionally the voices designed to fill an auditorium can be overwhelming, especially in this underground basement acoustic. None the less, the intimacy means that we can actually hear the performers breathing, which is used to spectacular effect in the tomb scene when Giulietta comes back to life, just moments too late, after Romeo’s ‘Ecco la tomba’ aria. The show ends as Giulietta joins Romeo in death, omitting the final scene where the feuding men find the dead lovers. For me this made for an unsatisfying end – the deaths have political as well as personal implications which need to be aired.
The cast has been pared down to the 5 principals, and accompaniment is on a keyboard, which inevitably leaves the musical interludes underpowered, albeit well played by Berrak Dyer. However the vocal ensemble pieces work brilliantly as the contribution of each voice can be appreciated in a way that is rare with a full orchestra. At times one feels the lack of a chorus – Romeo, for instance, is the only Montague we see – but the offstage characters do a good job of representing a chorus when necessary.
Finally, a word about captions. This can be a good idea but unfortunately here the concept doesn’t work – the first duty of captions is to explain without distracting. In this case there are three different fonts – one for filling in background information some of which scrolled through too quickly for me, silent movie-style captions which rather clumsily attempt to maintain the Mafia theme, and parallel texts of Italian and English for certain arias. Just pick one and stick with that, please.
Photographs courtesy of Richard Lakos
The cast on press night were:
The show is touring until 7th May with two alternating casts.