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OK, not really. But, despite my love of Prokofiev and his Dance of the Knights, I still can’t think music + Romeo and Juliet without thinking of the 1978 disco classic by Alec Costandinos.

Need I say to you? He’s a Montague
Turn your eyes away, speak no more of this young villain
He’s our only foe, a Capulet should know
Turn your eyes away, speak no more of this young villain…

What can you expect? She’s a Capulet
Turn your eyes away, speak no more of this young woman
She’s our only foe, a Montague should know
Turn your eyes away, speak no more of this young woman.

Even if you don’t like disco, you’ve got to love a song which manages to include two complete Shakespeare prologues. Although I’m too young to have fully appreciated disco in its glory days, my older sister had this one on a great mixtape I used to “borrow” (the other song that sticks out in my mind from that collection is “Sea, Sex, and Sun” by the incomparable Serge Gainsbourg). So, yeah, go ahead and add this to the growing list of bizarre places I learned Shakespeare in my childhood.

It’s only appropriate I had someone’s high school years in the back of my mind when attending San Francisco Opera‘s I Capuleti e i Montecchi this past week, since seeing the costumes by Christian Lacroix immediately threw me back to mine. Remember “le pouf”?

The celebrated pouf, circa 1987 (Source: New York magazine online, from the left: Firstview; Pierre Guillaud/AFP/Getty Images)

When the curtain first went up on the wedding scene, I thought I was having a prom flashback. Especially since everyone seemed to be standing on bleachers.

Act I, Scene III of I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Photo by Cory Weaver.

But the costumes weren’t the oddest part of this production. The set and staging left a lot to be desired. Some choices made sense to me, for example, I liked the saddles hanging from the ceiling in the first scene (later to be carried on stage in Act II). It deftly conveyed the sense of a clan mustering for battle.

Act I, Scene I of I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Mostly, however, the choices detracted from the story and singing. More than once, characters had their backs to the audience or were inexplicably clinging to walls. In key scenes, such as when Romeo and Tebaldo are surprised by Giulietta’s funeral procession, the chorus was not present, so the story at times didn’t make sense.

Act I, Scene II, which takes places in Giulietta’s room, was empty except for a sink attached to the wall and a statue hanging from the ceiling. It looked like a cell. And maybe it was supposed to be one—in an asylum—since the way Giuletta was acting throughout (why she climbs into the sink is beyond me), it seemed as if the director had confused her with Ophelia.

Nicole Cabell as Giulietta in Act I, Scene II. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Of course, Bellini’s opera is actually not based on Shakespeare at all, but rather Italian sources of the Romeo-Juliet story.

Or, as another famous Ophelia would claim: “This is not Shakespeare, Louis.”*

I assume that is one reason why the opera is not named for its two leads, but instead their families. What’s odd about that is that the opera is far more focused on the couple than either Shakespeare’s play or Prokofiev’s ballet. This was especially true in this production, which, as I said, had the chorus offstage at multiple points. However, given the bizarre staging, I had a hard time believing that this was a couple in love.

Joyce DiDonato as Romeo and Nicole Cabell as Giulietta in I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Photo by Cory Weaver.

That’s too bad because the singing of the two leads was incredible. I had expected as much from the headliner, Joyce DiDonato, in the trouser role of Romeo, but she was matched in every way by Nicole Cabell as Giulietta. They succeeded in lifting this fairly generic bel canto opera to a level well beyond the expectations I had based on listening to it beforehand. Saimir Pirgu also more than carried his own weight as Tebaldo as did Eric Owens as Capellio.

All in all, I am very satisfied with our first two outings of the season. Let’s hope this holds.

Bring on the White Whale!

*Seriously, Trading Places, watch it.

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