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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: I Puritani

A bel canto favorite returns to the big stage.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
A scene from I Puritani. Photo by Ken Howard © 2016 The Metropolitan Opera.

Diana Damrau and Javier Camarena return to lend heat to the Met's serviceable but decidedly antique staging of Vincenzo Bellini's final opera.

What is I Puritani?
This is the last of a string of bel canto masterpieces by Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini, a tour de force for a star tenor and soprano who must fly high above the stave over the course of a long evening.

What's I Puritani about?
The plot is your fairly standard love triangle with an obligatory long mad scene for the soprano, set in England in the 1640s. The backdrop is the battle between Charles I and the Protestant forces of Oliver Cromwell, who as the Cavaliers and Roundheads made their England bleed.

What's the music like?
This was Bellini's last score, and is a propulsive and memorable night at the theater if you have singers who can set the house on fire. Memorable numbers include the "Qui la voce ... Vien, diletto" mad scene in the second act and the powerful duet (for two basses) "Suoni la tromba."

Who's in it?
Diana Damrau and Javier Camarena are magic together, and their presence enough is reason to buy a ticket. Alexey Markov and Luca Pisaroni are in the supporting parts. Maurizio Benini conducts.

How's the production?
This production dates from 1976 and is showing its age. (In its first run, the stage sets were tread by Joan Sutherland!) With its traditional castle walls and fortress battlements, it is the perfect frame for the fine voices needed to navigate Bellini's music, which tends to pull the orchestral accompaniment back and allow the weight of the show to rest on the voices.

Why should I see it?
Because the singing will be utterly fabulous even if the plot is silly. This is a quintessential opera lover's opera and this winter revival should be worth catching.

When does it open?
This revival of I Puritani opens on Feb. 2, 2017.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I get?
The "standard" Puritani recordings boil down to a choice between Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano pairing off with Tullio Serafin at La Scala (mono sound, but early Callas!) and the bells-and-whistles Richard Bonynge recording for Decca starring Dame Joan Sutherland opposite Luciano Pavarotti. You can't go wrong with either, but here are two interesting alternatives:

Glyndebourne Festival Orchestra cond. Vittorio Gui (Glyndebourne Festival, 2010)
This classic live "pit" recording from 1960 which was finally released three years ago on the Festival's boutique label features one of Dame Joan Sutherland's first appearances as Elvira. (It also lets the listener hear the great Australian diva separated from her husband and regular conductor Richard Bonynge.) Nicola Ficacurini is her Arturo.

Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Julius Rudel (Westminster/ABC 1973)
Reissued on CD in 2001, this recording preserves Beverly Sills toward the end of her prime as Elvira. The silvery-voiced soprano is perfectly paired with Nicolai Gedda on this underrated studio recording.

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