BELLINI I Puritani (Pidò)
This opera, Bellini’s last, has a fairly silly plot, what with Cavalier Arturo abandoning Elvira on their wedding day to escort Henrietta Maria to safety, and Roundhead Riccardo – who also loves Elvira – veering between regret, anger, desire for vengeance, and sympathy. As a drama it can’t compare with Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor of the same year, 1835, another opera in which the heroine loses her wits; but it contains much fine music and, given a cast of first-rate singers, it is worth reviving.
That criterion is certainly met in this production from Madrid. Diana Damrau dispatches the coloratura of ‘Son vergin vezzosa’ with lightness and brilliance. She is good at girlish excitement and believably mad whether throwing the furniture around or playing with the chandelier lightbulbs during ‘Vieni diletto’. As her lover Arturo, Javier Camarena is at his most eloquent in the long lines of ‘Credeasi, misera!’ in the Act 3 finale. He understandably avoids the top F (a bullseye from John Osborn in the production from Amsterdam), but he approaches the other high notes – C sharp and D – boldly, with no sense of strain. With his sensitive phrasing, Nicolas Testé mitigates the foursquareness of Giorgio’s narration to Elvira and his later account of her madness, ‘Cinta di fiori’. Above all, Ludovic Tézier’s Riccardo laments his hopeless love for Elvira in an exquisitely shaped ‘Ah! per sempre io ti perdei’. Evelino Pidò conducts efficiently but he is not always considerate towards his singers: Tézier and Damrau are each rushed into one of their final cadences.
I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the production. A plain set, modern props, dark fur-trimmed greatcoats for the men. The only colour comes from sashes and medals, and Enrichetta in full 17th-century fig. The chorus stand or sit in rows, as though performing an oratorio. At the end of Act 1 Elvira is positioned in front of a curtain, making it hard to discern the chorus and other soloists. Riccardo and Giorgio then play peekaboo through the strips of the curtain: not a happy effect. Act 2 opens with a man on the ground, his face hard to make out. You wonder which character it is, before discovering it’s an anonymous extra. Reservations, then, but this is well worth seeing for its top-class singing.