I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Opera by V. Bellini
Before Romeo and Juliet became inextricably associated with William Shakespeare, the two hopeless young lovers from Verona were a fixture of Italian drama since the Renaissance. Thus, the source of Vincenzo Bellini’s now-classic opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi can be traced not to the Bard but to Italian playwright Luigi Scevola’s Giuletta e Romeo from 1818. The premiere of the work on 11 March 1830 at La Fenice in Venice gave Bellini a much-needed success that would establish him as one of the names to be reckoned with in contemporary Italian opera.
The tragedia lirica I Capuleti e i Montecchi is living proof that masterpieces need not be completely unique. Librettist Felice Romani had already adapted Scevola’s play for the operatic stage in 1825 for composer Nicola Vaccai. Bellini himself reused music that had been part of his critical and commercial flop, Zaira. The two men worked tirelessly through a particularly harsh Venetian winter, which left the composer ill and exhausted. Within the space of about six weeks, Bellini put together the score of I Capuleti e i Montecchi against tall odds and with remarkable individuality and flair.
In the space of its dramatic two acts, the opera reveals the classic love story between Giulietta and Romeo (or Juliet and Romeo in English). In this narrative, the two are not part of warring families but of rival political parties. Giulietta’s father Capellio Capuleti, leads the Guelph faction and clashes with the Ghibellines, led by Romeo Montecchi who has a secret love affair with Giulietta. At the same time, the young lady’s hand has already been promised to Tebaldo. The rivalry, intrigue and secrecy of the two lovers’ tragic story is in full harmony with Bellini’s emotionally charged score. The classic tale comes to life on the stage of the Rome Opera House.