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Romeo and Juliet in Drag?

Giuditta Grisi played the first Romeo in Bellini's opera

Giuditta Grisi played the first Romeo in Bellini's opera

The Tuesday Night Opera, Tuesday at 8:00 pm


Remember John Madden’s film Shakespeare in Love in which men had to play all the women’s roles due to Elizabethan standards of decency? In opera, that tradition swings both directions.

AnonimoGirolamoCrescentini

Castrato Girolamo Crescentini, the first Romeo in Zingarelli’s setting

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has captured the imaginations of many composers; the story is timeless, even as a readers’ biases change – and they’ve changed a lot. When Niccolò Antonio Zingarelli composed his opera on Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo e Giulietta (1796), his image of Romeo was to be realized by a castrato, a male who’s had a procedure prior to puberty in order to keep the voice from dropping (the reasoning being that Romeo is a youth, so he shouldn’t have a deep voice). Vincenzo Bellini agreed with his teacher Zingarelli to the extent that he gave the role to a woman, a mezzo-soprano. He titled his 1830 opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi.

The Frenchman Gounod assigned Romeo to a tenor.

Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi is the feature on this week’s Tuesday Night Opera with Peter van de Graaff. The role of Romeo will be sung by a woman in a bel canto opera that promises beautiful women’s duets. Peter features a recording with Vesselina Kasarova, Eva Mei, and Ramon Vargas.

West650

Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert as Maria and Tony in Bernstein’s “West Side Story”

Gounod

Tenor Pierre-Jules Michot, Gounod’s first Romeo

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