Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Bellini – I Puritani

Elvira – Anna Netrebko
Lord Arturo Talbot – Eric Cutler
Sir Riccardo Forth – Franco Vassallo
Sir Giorgio – John Relyea
Lord Walton – Valerian Ruminski
Enrichetta di Francia – Maria Zifchak

Conductor – Patrick Summers
Production – Sandro Sequi
Revival Stage Director – Sharon Thomas
Set Design – Ming Cho Lee
Costume Design – Peter J Hall
Film Director – Gary Halvorson

Recorded at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, January 2007

Deutsche Grammophon 073 4421 – 2 DVDs – 149 minutes + bonus 22 mins

I puritani is Bellini’s last opera, written for a sophisticated Paris audience, and it contains some of his most brilliant music.  The plot is loosely based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel Old Mortality, involving lengthy mad scenes from a hapless young lady caught between rival Stuart and Cromwellian suitors.  These three roles, together with that of Elvira’s compassionate uncle Giorgio form the famous “Puritani Quartet” and demand singers of the very highest calibre. 

Anna Netrebko is one of the current darlings of New York’s Metropolitan Opera.  Considerable hype preceded her debut in the taxing role of Elvira and she is greeted with applause from the audience as soon as she sets foot upon the stage.  She has poise and beauty and a really gorgeous creamy voice.   The trouble is that it is not truly a bel canto voice and her high notes, trills and coloratura ornamentation all tend towards the approximate.  It is a pity to hear such a gifted singer in repertoire that is not really suited to her. In an intermission interview she states quite clearly that in this role her singing takes precedence over her acting, and whilst she looks every inch the vulnerable heroine, she never seems to get under the skin of a woman driven mad by her predicament, and she shows an unfortunate tendency to play to the audience.

Tenor Eric Cutler missed the first performance of the run due to illness.  He was back on stage in time for this recording but I would surmise that his singing is below its best, he skips a top note or two, and doesn’t have quite the richness or fluidity that I would expect from him.  However, he acts convincingly and tries to inject a bit of chemistry into his Act 3 reunion with Elvira. 

As Riccardo, Franco Vassallo looks sullen enough to be one of Cromwell’s officers, he has all the notes, but his singing is completely devoid of expression or variety of tone, and he contributes nothing to the drama.

It is left to the Canadian bass John Relyea to give the one really memorable performance of the evening.  He alone has a grasp of how bel canto needs to be sung, he easily commands the stage and exudes warmth and emotion with every note. 

This DVD is a spin off from the Met’s initiative to display its productions in cinemas through the US.  The film is very skilfully put together, with a brief scene-setting opening sequence inside the theatre with those famous starry chandeliers ascending, an imaginative variety of close up and distant views of the action (including some shot from the wings encompassing both singers and conductor), and the curtain calls are shown from both front and back of house.

Peter J Hall’s costuming attires his puritans in ludicrously fancy outfits, and the production and sets date from 1976.  They look their age and conform to the static format of those times making it easy to imagine them inhabited by the original cast of Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes and James Morris.  Would they had still been there for this film; today’s cast, with the already noted exception of John Relyea, are mere shadows by comparison!

Serena Fenwick

Bellini: I Puritani from Bologna

Juan Diego Flórez (Lord Arturo Talbo), Nino Machaidze (Elvira),
Ildebrando D’Arcangelo (Sir Giorgio Valton), Ugo Guagliardo (Lord Gualtiero Valton),
Gabriele Viviani (Sir Riccardo Forth), Gianluca Floris (Sir Bruno Roberton) &
Nadia Pirazzini (Enrichettta di Francia)
Orchestra e coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Michele Mariotti

Decca DVD 0743351 [2 DVDs, filmed in 2009]

This modest cut-price Bologna production and its DVD recording have yet few reviews and they are "mixed".

It requires complete suspension of any attempt to believe and immersion in the conventions of opera of its time. A lot of it is not far from a staged concert in costume, with perfunctory staging and stand and deliver singing; the chorus is regimented in geometric patterns and are required to sing generalised stock emotions. The colour palette is deliberately limited, greys, dark blues and a touch of white for the abortive wedding and planned escape of the Queen of England from Plymouth...
Most of the booklet photos are appropriately in b & w.

However, we have enjoyed it, and too the quite imaginative camera work (which includes looking out from the back of the stage into the orchestra and audience - the orchestra pit is very shallow).

If you purchase it, that will probably be for Florez, but the Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze, who has one of the largest mouths in the business and opens it wide as her teachers taught her to do, is his equal and has a nice line in veering from madness to joyousness.

Peter Grahame Woolf

For those who can't have too much of Florez, issued simultaneously is a CD also from Bolgna with an interesting selection of sacred music for Christmas, including Qui sedes from Bellini's Mass with clarinet obliggato and the same Orchestra e coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Michele Mariotti: [Decca 478 2254]

Another recent DVD of I Puritani, from Amsterdam, is reviewed in 2012