[To elope, you really don’t need more than a leather jacket, an artfully placed bedspread and a good grasp on belcanto technique. – Joyce DiDonato (Romeo) and Patrizia Ciofi (Giulietta) in Bellini’s “I Capuleti e i Montecchi”, Barcelona 2016.]
For helpful illustration, the Liceu has kindly made the full clip of this number available on YT, just in case.
The most entertaining this about this latest take on the weathered Vincent Boussard staging is the very pragmatic erosion of its stilted treatment of the central romance. Those of us who saw the first Munich run (some of us, repeatedly) likely remember with fond aggravation the core principle of “balance on the sink, but no touching the mezzo!”
The show has been around the block since then, including San Francisco and now Barcelona, and if you check out the clip above, there’s been some erosion of that principle in the meantime (with a look at the Lacroix costumes: “if you’re already wearing the bedspread, why not make use of it?”).
But other than looking good, there’s a deeper point about the logic of depicting romance on the opera stage here, which is something we’ve discussed quite a bit in recent weeks in relation the Brussels “Mitridate” and how it worked and in part did not work in the set-up and blocking. Because unless you really run a tight, abstract concept and keep it sharp throughout the run(s), e.g. the fact that a production travels and sees new casts tends to lead to the most pragmatic and logical connection between two scenic “dots” (within a given cultural mindset of conventions), and not the one artfully thought up by the original directing team.
Particularly when there is not a large involvement of the original team, or no time/money to have extensive scenic rehearsals, or a concept that is only kind-of abstract, plus when there is a lot of different cast members on short notice, what tends to prevail in absence of clear cues is an universal kind of common sense of “what move would character x logically make next?”
And, sure enough, the answer is less “climb the sink and stand at maximum distance to your supposed love interest” and more “hold on for dear life or at least try to”, which leads to another, related point: if there is a discrepancy in vocal and scenic emoting (unless you clearly insist on it as part of your concept (e.g. Müller’s Bayreuth “Tristan”)), that discrepancy tends to erode over time because of a striving for congruence that is ingrained into our systems, I would argue, on a deeper level – unless we are expressively challenged to not do that, e.g. when moving in (often non-Western) art forms where body movement is more rigorously and consciously stylized than in opera.
So, in a nutshell, I would say that “singing your heart out” will instinctively prompt a physical alignment of sorts (whether it is intense yearning across a distance, or tumbling into a bedspread dress: it is about the level of intensity), and if that is not happening, or a not-happening it is not clearly and purposefully framed/used, it will result in a scene or take feeling “off”.