Opera review: Cape Town: Bellini`s I Capuleti e i MontecchiArtscape Theatre Centre 

Spectacular! Beautiful. Bellini`s I Capuleti e i Montecchi opened last night (May 15) at Artscape – to a rapturous standing ovation. Cat-calls of ‘Bravo” throughout. There are two more performances and then it’s done: Friday May 17 and Saturday May 18. Please do not miss this sparkling, stylish, beautifully sung and performed opera.

This is Bellini`s take on the famous Romeo and Juliet story (first staged in 1830). It differs from the Shakespeare play in many respects. Durban based Steven Stead is in the director’s seat and he explains in his director’s note that that the premise of the warring families in the Bard’s version is positioned differently in the opera, where we get a sense of “opposing political parties with radically different ideologies”. The fighting between political factions is foregrounded and as Stead says we don’t see the trajectory of their love story in the opera. Stirring music. Stunning performances. We saw Brittany Smith as Giuletta. She is only 24! Knockout performance as was the performance by Ane Pretorius as Romeo. Designs by Michael Mitchell and Kobus Rossouw – invoking Renaissance opulence but conveyed with a stark pared down majesty. Reminded me of Magritte’s urban landscapes – vast, creepy, alienating – reeking of power and subterfuge.

This production is being staged by Cape Town Opera in collaboration with UCT Opera School. The UCT Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Jeremy Silver. Steven Stead heads up the company KickstArt in Durban with his partner Greg King and many of us are familiar with their musical theatre work. Recently we saw the company’s Into the Woods at Theatre on The Bay. Opera and musical theatre intersect so one should not be surprised at Stead’s impeccable direction. The acting is impressive – never mind the voices. Opera is not an easy art form – to reach the notes, sing in another language to your mother tongue. This opera is an emotional piece but the emotion is restrained, contained by Stead’s hand in choreographing gesture and movement. The talent of the young performers is awe inspiring.

I loved the isiXhosa surtitles- hearing the Italian and as I was listening, I was reading the English surtitles and the isiXhosa. Added layers. I was very aware of the translations – for example – Father – Tata. There were many Italians there last night. The word in the foyer was that the Italian was excellent and that they did not need to read the English surtitles as the diction was first rate. I thought this was a first – the isiXhosa surtitles but Lesley Liddle of Cape Town Opera says: “We introduced isiXhosa surtitles at our 2018 staging of Don Pasquale and for the Mandela Trilogy opera which CTO staged for Madiba’s centenary celebration. Audience response has been amazing it’s opened the world of opera far and wide. In the words of our Madiba, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.’ CTO’s Youth Development and Education co-ordinator Masixole Makwetu is responsible for the isiXhosa translations and Alexandra Hamilton for the English translations. The English translations are concise and easy to read. I think that surtitles are a brilliant way of opening access for audiences and I compliment the opera on the crisp translations and the clear text on the surtitle box – visually, easy to read.

What an evening! An opera which gives us a different perspective on the Romeo and Juliet story; beautiful music, libretto and isiXhosa surtitles.

Bravo to all involved.

Productions pics on this post by Kim Stevens. Other pics by TheCapeRobyn – except poster pics of opera and exhibition.

*Note: this post has been edited. Some information supplied to TheCapeRobyn was incorrect. Important to note that this production is not touring at this point in time.

Exhibition: Italian Opera Embraces Africa

When at Artscape, check out an exhibition in the foyer: Italian Opera Embraces Africa. The exhibition (until June 10, 2019), presented by Teatro dell’Opera di Roma (Rome Opera House- opened in November 1880, 2 212 seats).

The exhibition features costumes and designs (drawings)- “masterpieces and the most famous characters of the lyrical repertoire performed at the Teatro dell’Opera in the last century, from Barbiere di Siviglia to Aida, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La Traviata, Andrea Chénier, Don Pasquale, Cavalleria Rusticana and many others.” There are 49 sketches and 14 costumes- designed by theatrical artists from 1912 to now. The exhibition provides insights into Italian opera design – astonishing detail to costumes – embroidery, hand painted images, lace, fabric, textures.

*Tickets to Capuleti e i Montecchi, R100-R300. Book at Computicket. No charge to view exhibition: Italian Opera Embraces Africa.