everly Sills had a very special relationship with Sarah Caldwell and her Opera Company of Boston, with whom she sang many of her most celebrated roles–and a few less well remembered. Sills squeezed in appearances in Boston even when it made her tight schedule even tighter; Caldwell’s sense of operatic adventure allowed the prima donna ample opportunity to experiment and grow. It was to Sills’s credit that she always took the opportunity–even if it meant singing La Fille du Régiment in a gymnasium, or portraying Norma as an albino.
Oddly, the 1975 Boston performances of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, from which this set comes, are not mentioned in Sills’s autobiography, Beverly. The role of Giulietta was a very congenial one for the soprano, utilizing her skills as a bel canto singer to the fullest (although Giulietta lacks much rapid-fire coloratura, a Sills specialty) and offering her opportunities as an actress that didn’t stretch the envelope vocally, as did her beloved Donizetti queens. In these Boston Capuleti performances, Sills’s familiar plangent quality is employed in abundance, and she fills out the character without becoming aggressive in a way that would not suit the youthful heroine. (Giulietta has plenty of backbone, but Queen Elizabeth I she isn’t.) The voice is in steady shape, evincing little of the pinched tone or wobble that crept in later in the decade, and much of what Sills does is affecting. Sills was always a fearless vocalist, and as a result, there are occasionally embellishments that one might find questionable. When she pulled these off in live performance, the excitement sometimes justified the stunt. On an audio recording, the excessive decoration, for instance, of Giulietta’s ravishing “Oh! Quante volte,” in which even the recitative is loaded with “stuff,” mars and reduces the effect of the pure line that this soprano could have spun seamlessly. Nonetheless, this is excellent Sills, and that is saying something.
I cannot imagine Giulietta finding a more ideal Romeo than Tatiana Troyanos. One is riveted from the very first phrase; this is a performance of intensity, beauty and poignancy. Authoritative in recitative, pouring out floods of molten, burnished tone in her arias, and fiery in cabalettas, the mezzo simply is Romeo. As always with this artist, involvement is complete, but here none of it seems to unnerve her to the point where she breaks out of the bel canto framework of the role. Troyanos is worth the price of the set. The other singers range from adequate (Robert Trehy as Lorenzo, Herbert Beattie as Capellio) to unfortunate (Joseph Evans as a thin-voiced, unidiomatic Tebaldo).
The chorus sounds young and eager but thin in ranks, a result no doubt of the economic hurdles Caldwell perpetually had to jump. But she gets a fine performance from her orchestra. Because neither of the two performances of January 5 and 7, 1975, was recorded complete, VAI has put together tapes of each to create a whole. As a result, Caldwell conducts most of the work, with William Fred Scott at the helm for ten minutes of Act I and the last half hour of the opera’s second (and final) act. The changeover is seamless, the orchestra having Caldwell’s version well in hand. The sound is mostly excellent: a directional microphone sometimes brings the voices thrillingly close; at other times, when singers change position, they can sound a bit distant. Fans of Sills will of course want this document, and all the young mezzos looking at the role of Romeo should run out and get their hands on Troyanos’s exemplary version. But do get a libretto, as VAI has not included texts.