I Puritani Streams Today from the Met

By Lynne Gray, PhD

Please note I Puritani can be seen at www.metopera.org

Monday, June 1

Bellini’s  I Puritani ~ 2 Hrs & 35 Mins

Conducted by Patrick Summers; starring Anna Netrebko, Eric Cutler, Franco Vassallo, and John Relyea. Transmitted live on January 6, 2007.

Another beautiful saga of star-crossed lovers caught up in the politics around them. This one is set against the strife of the 17th-century English Civil Wars. Bellini’s gem is yet another bel-canto work known for its mad scene (and is the last opera written in his sadly short life). Elvira, a young Puritan woman, is being allowed to marry Arturo, a Royalist. But when his duty to the crown comes between them, and Elvira is abandoned on her wedding day, she descends into madness with a breathtaking outpouring of vocal virtuosity that only this style of opera can deliver.

Soprano Anna Netrebko took New York by storm when she first performed the role of the fragile Puritan maiden Elvira. Her daring take on the heroine’s famous mad scene earned her standing ovations from sold-out houses night after night. Overflowing with beautiful arias and ensembles, this bel canto masterwork also stars Eric Cutler as Elvira’s love Arturo, Franco Vassallo as her Puritan suitor Riccardo, and John Relyea (Mephistopheles just last week) as her loving uncle Giorgio.

The opera takes place in Plymouth, England (a Puritan stronghold) around 1650, which was during the time of the English Civil Wars. The wars were basically between the so-called “Roundheads,” also known as Parliamentarians, and the “Cavaliers,” also known as Royalists. Royalist troops are threatening a siege, but the ladies and gentlemen of the castle are joyous, anticipating both a Puritan victory (Puritans were Roundhead sympathizers) and the wedding day of Elvira who is the daughter of Gualtiero, the fortress commander. She has been promised to Riccardo, a Puritan leader who has just returned from the war. While speaking with his friend, Bruno, we learn in Riccardo’s famous baritone aria “Ah! Per sempre io ti perdei,” (Ah, I’ve lost you forever) that in his absence, Elvira has fallen in love with Arturo, a Royalist, and wants to marry him instead. Since her father will not force her to marry against her will, Riccardo is despondent. His men call upon him to lead them in the war, but he declares, “I am aflame, but the flame is love, not glory.”

In the next scene, we meet Elvira as she welcomes her uncle, Giorgio, who is almost a father to her. When he says she will soon be married, she is terribly distressed, saying she would rather die than marry Riccardo. Her uncle, however, tells her that he has persuaded her father to let her marry Arturo and that Arturo is on his way and will be welcomed at the castle even though he is a Royalist. 

Arturo enters the Hall with his squires for the wedding day celebrations and joins Elvira, her father and uncle. Arturo expresses his great happiness, “A te, o cara / amore talora ” (In you beloved, love led me in secrecy and tears, now it guides me to your side), and Elvira’s uncle tells the gathering he has been called away and will not be able to attend the wedding although he has provided Arturo with a safe conduct pass. A mysterious lady appears, and Giorgio tells her that he will be escorting her to London to appear before Parliament. Arturo cannot help being curious and is told the lady is suspected of being a Royalist spy.

While Elvira is dressing for the wedding, Arturo speaks with the lady, figuring out that she is a prisoner, and is in fact the Stuart Queen – Enrichetta – widow of the recently decapitated Charles I.  This presents a horrible conflict of interest for poor Arturo! Should he stay and marry his beloved or save his Queen! His duty is clear: he must help the Queen escape, no matter the cost.

Elvira appears singing a joyful polonaise “Son vergin vezzosa ” (I am a pretty maiden dressed for her wedding), and she engages the “lady” in helping her with the ringlets of her hair. To allow that to happen, Elvira removes her wedding veil and places it over Enrichetta’s head. Arturo and Enrichetta realize that this is the strategy that could allow them to escape. When Elvira leaves, Arturo and the Queen (in the wedding veil and so looking like Elvira) attempt to sneak out of the castle. Riccardo suddenly appears, and now it is he who is the one with the conflict: should he do his Puritan duty and arrest the escapees, or let the Royalists go so that his path to Elvira will be cleared? Riccardo allows the Queen and Arturo to slip away.

Riccardo, of course, is more than happy to tell the assembled wedding guests that Arturo has fled with Enrichetta. Elvira is deserted at the altar, believes Arturo loves another and immediately begins to go mad – a condition in which she remains for most of the rest of the next two acts.

Acts 2 and 3 bring us Elvira in the full force of her madness. She sees Arturo everywhere and pleads for his return, “Qui la voce sua soave
Mi chiamava e poi sparì”
(Here his sweet voice
He called me and then disappeared) and “Vien, diletto, è in ciel la luna!/Tutto tace intorno, intorno” (Come, beloved, the moon is in heaven!
Everything is silent around us). Giorgio makes a pact with Riccardo, for Elvira’s sake, to spare Arturo if he returns in peace since he now has a huge price on his head. Riccardo does, in fact, return (after three months) to find Elvira still quite mad and believing that he married the unknown woman, “Credeasi, misera! Da me tradita” (Believe me, miserable one who was so betrayed by me). Georgio and Riccardo are not able to save him from the angry Puritan soldiers who want his head and there is a painful goodbye as Elvira begins to come out of her madness, but slips back as she realizes that he is about to be executed. This one ends happily, however, when at the very last minute news reaches them that the war has ended. The Roundheads are victorious and amnesty is declared. Elvira returns to sanity and all is well……. it’s a very happy ending for a change!

Photo Credits

1.              Anna Netrebko as Elvira in Bellini’s “I Puritani” at the Met. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

2.              Anna Netrebko as Elvira and John Relyea as Giorgio in Bellini’s “I Puritani” at the Met. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

3.              Maria Zifchak as Enrichetta and Anna Netrebko as Elvira in Bellini’s “I Puritani” at the Met. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

4.              Anna Netrebko as Elvira in Bellini’s “I Puritani” at the Met. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

5.              Eric Cutler as Arturo and Anna Netrebko as Elvira in Bellini’s “I Puritani” at the Met. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

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