I Puritani

Vincenzo Bellini, libretto by Carlo Pepoli
Teatro Real Madrid
Teatro Real Madrid, Spain

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The Cast of I Puritani Credit: Javier del Real
The Cast of I Puritani Credit: Javier del Real
The Cast of I Puritani Credit: Javier del Real

Vincenzo Bellini said he wanted to make his audiences weep, faint and die. His great romantic opera, which premièred in Paris in 1835, is set during the time of the English Civil War. Just as Puritan Elvira is about to be married to Royalist Arturo, he deserts her for another woman, who was last seen wearing Elvira's bridal veil.

Elvira does the only thing any self-­respecting jilted heroine would do in such operatic circumstances. She goes stark raving mad. Mad scenes were all the rage in 19th century romantic operas.

Emilio Sagi’s production, conducted by Evelino Pidò and filmed in 2016, is highly stylized, relying for its visual impact on 22 hanging chandeliers and a similar number of chairs on stage. The designer is Daniel Bianco.

Diana Damrau’s Elvira is, inevitably, a mature woman pretending to be a young woman in love. Her big scene, a bravura display of bel canto, is sung in front of a walk-though curtain, hiding the whole company behind it. Only their enormous shadows are visible, leaving her all on her own to sing and throw herself madly about the stage. She also has, at one point, to carry a moon in a birdcage and even more oddly, start playing with the individual lights of a chandelier, turning them on and off.

The singing is much better than the acting. There is some lovely music from Bellini and there is some fine singing by Damrau and Javier Camerena as Arturo, singly and in duet. There is also some fine singing by Ludovic Tézier as Riccardo, lamenting Elvira’s rejection of his love for her and by Nicolas Testé as her kindly uncle who gives a vivid account of her anguish. There’s good work from the chorus, too.

The opera ends with the announcement that the Puritans have won the war. And you know what that means. No theatre for 18 years. Theatres were closed in 1642 and did not open until 1660 with the Restoration of the monarchy.

It’s still pretty bad today. Classic British playwrights are ignored. When did you last see a play by Wycherley, Etherege, Otway and Congreve?

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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