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I Capuleti e I Montecchi review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘spare, but powerful’

I Capuleti and Montecchi at Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Lida Crisafulli
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Director Lysanne van Overbeek muddies things a bit by starting this production of Bellini’s bel canto with Giulietta reading the opening lines of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Bellini wasn’t drawing on the same sources as Shakespeare – this is a different story, with different strengths. Van Overbeek makes the comparison to the most famous iteration of the story of woe, but has no room to explore it.

Lack of room is a problem more generally. When it isn’t worrying about set or concept, Van Overbeek’s production conjures a beautifully spare, thrillingly intense atmosphere in the Arcola’s studio space. But things get in the way: piles of pages from books and scores serve as trip hazards more than anything else, and the moving of wooden blocks slows things down.

Chiara Vinci’s Giulietta is the tortured heart of the production. She has a fantastic voice with stunning control which moderates itself to the space; it finds tenderness and an intense thrum of passion with Flora McIntosh’s Romeo. McIntosh excels in the final moments as the poison takes effect and she writhes and heaves in full voice.

The rest of the performers, especially the men, give the ears a bit of a battering, even if they display some strong voices.

Iffy concept aside, it’s a production that all but bursts out of the space, and for a piece of music that explores love in such a violent, passionate way, in many moments that roof-raising really works.

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Verdict
Spare, powerful production of Bellini’s take on the famous love story
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