KATONAH, N.Y. (AP) — In Vincenzo Bellini's opera about those immortal star-crossed lovers, the heroine is in distress pretty much from the moment she first steps onstage.
But for the audience at Caramoor on Saturday night, listening to Eglise Gutierrez give voice to all that misery was an occasion for pure joy.
The Cuban-American soprano delivered a radiant performance as Giulietta in Bellini's 1830 opus, "I Capuleti e i Montecchi" ("The Capulets and the Montagues"), the second and final presentation in this summer's Bel Canto at Caramoor series.
With plaintive tone and prodigious breath control, Gutierrez seemed ideally suited to invest Bellini's long, languid melodies with mournful emotion. She repeatedly floated soft high notes of breathtaking beauty, then spun them out in phrases of the finest gossamer.
Not that she lacked for power when it was called for. Conductor Will Crutchfield used an alternate ending for the Act 2 scene in which Giulietta swallows a sleeping potion to simulate death, and Gutierrez capped the moment with a loud, sustained E natural above high C, which if a bit rough was still impressive for its daring.
Perhaps more than other versions, this retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story depends on great singing for its success because the plot is notably thin and character development almost entirely lacking. The libretto is based not on Shakespeare's play but on various Italian treatments of the story.
But it takes two to make a tragedy, and unfortunately, Caramoor's Romeo was not on the same level. Kate Aldrich, singing the "trousers" role as Bellini wrote it for a mezzo-soprano, was consistently flat in the lower part of her register. Her high notes were mostly in tune and sounded full and vibrant, but something was clearly wrong with her vocal production, and the harmonies in some of the lovers' duets were slightly off.
It's a pity because Aldrich is an appealing performer, and even in this concert performance, with the singers stationed in front of the orchestra, she fit the part of a noble, passionate youth. Her black trousers and black sequined top contrasted nicely with Gutierrez's peach-colored dress.
In supporting roles, bass-baritone Jeffrey Beruan as Giulietta's father, Capellio, and baritone Benjamin Harris as the priest Lorenzo both acquitted themselves well. But tenor Leonard Capalbo, as Romeo's rival, Tebaldo, struggled to find the correct pitch all night.
Crutchfield led the excellent Orchestra of St. Luke's and the men's chorus with his customary enthusiasm and attention to detail.