We’re going to start tonight’s show with Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi. This opera, using a libretto by Felice Romani, is based on the same source material that William Shakespeare used for Romeo and Juliet. Bellini wrote the opera for the 1830 Carnival season in Venice, and he used quite a bit of music that had originally appeared in Zaira, an earlier work of his which had flopped. The opera is considered one of the finest examples of the bel canto singing style. While it was immediately successful (an 1834 performance is said to have left a “strong impression” on Richard Wagner), it left the regular repertoire until the 1930s. After a 1935 revival for the centennial of Bellini’s death, the opera has been performed regularly ever since.
Tonight’s recording is a 2009 production which features Anna Netrebko, Elīna Garanča, Joseph Calleja, Tiziano Bracci, and Robert Gleadow. Fabio Luisi leads the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Vienna Singakademie.
Our next opera this evening is a work by Jean Baptiste Lully. Lully wrote Armide in 1686, during what he might have thought was the height of his career (he died from an infection the next year). Lully started as a dancer, and in his position as court composer wrote many ballets for Louis XIV that both he and the king would dance in. However, the king’s interest in ballet dissipated as he got older, so Lully turned to opera. He only wrote opera for 10 years or so, but the opera that we will hear this evening is generally regarded as a masterpiece of the tragédie en musique sub-genre that dominated French opera during that era, which Lully himself helped create. It is notable that, as befits Lully’s background in ballet, his operas feature quite a bit of choreograpy, and helped establish a long-standing French tradition of including ballet segments in with opera, which impacted composers so far distant as Mozart and Wagner.
Tonight’s 1992 Harmonia Mundi recording features Guillemette Laurens, Howard Crook, Bernard Deletré, Véronique Gens, Noémi Rime, John Hancock, Gilles Ragon, with Philippe Herreweghe leading the Collegium Vocale and the La Chapelle Royale.