I Puritani was Bellini's last opera; he died, age 33, about seven months after its premiere. It is considered and "essential piece" in the Bel Canto repertory, but is infrequently performed, due to its casting requirements. To do justice to the score requires four principal singers with the ability to perform the intricate vocal gymnastics associated with coloratura singers. These demands are particularly difficult to fulfill as to both tenor and soprano parts.
The 2007 Met performance from which this disc was made, was staged to display the amazingly talented Anna Netrebko, using sets that were designed in 1976 for another great soprano, Joan Sutherland. Seeing and hearing Netrebko, and having the CD performance with Sutherland with which to compare it, makes it abundantly clear what an amazingly talented person Anna Netrebko is. In my opinion, she is one of the finest sopranos of our time. For those who doubt (and there are several), one only needs to jump to "Qui la voce sua soave" in Act II, where Netrebko displays awesome vocal and dramatic talents.
Remember, gentle reader, that in the early 19th Century, women who were stressed were expected to do one of three things: die, faint or go bonkers (One might validly state that this attitude persisted until Rudyard Kipling penned his immortal "The female of the species is more deadly than the male", but I digress ...). Perhaps the most famous mad scene is that in Lucia di Lammermoor, but that is far from the only example in Bel Canto opera. In Puritani, Elvira has two mad scenes and arguably three, since her ... derangement ... persists into the final act. Each of them allows for the utmost vocal and dramatic skills to pull off convincingly. "Qui la voce", noted above, is at the heart of the Act II mad scene and lasts for about 17 minutes. To say it is "demanding" is not only "to state the obvious" but to understate it. For some of the most demanding bars, Netrebko lies on her back, long hair spilling into the orchestra pit and sings ravishingly.
Critics of Netrebko go on about the lack of an extended top, but quality soprano singing is a lot more than E flats and above. Warmth and suppleness of voice, fluid runs and the ability to synthesize emotion into tone are just a few aspects. Netrebko surely pulls out all of the stops, but recall that at the beginning of this (or any) opera,a singer has to asses his/her performance from the perspective of being able to sing well for several hours (about 2 1/2 here). So the ability to push the envelope in Act II, yet have reserves for the final, demanding scene is not insignificant.
I delayed for some time in getting this disc, mainly because the reviews of the DVD pointed to "tenor issues". Recall that both Pavarotti and Gedda had serious issues with the extended range of Arturo's part. Only Juan Diego Florez has done it well on DVD, and, if memory serves, even that splendid bel cantist no longer sings it. I could give several technical reasons why Eric Cutler's performance is not the best, but in all fairness, any tenor who can finish this opera without herniating himself deserves credit. So while "tenor issues" exist, they are insufficient, in my opinion, to dissuade one from getting this disc.
The remaining principals are also quite good, with special kudos to the very talented Canadian bass, John Relyea and baritone Franco Vassalo who complete this "Puritani Quartet" (the term of course was coined to reflect the qualities of the original four, Grisi, Lablache, Tambourini and Rubini who made lots of lira from the nickname).
Chorus and orchestra do exceptionally well under the baton of the very talented Patrick Summers. I am most fond of both the Met Orchestra, arguably the best on the planet, and the chorus, which combine vocal skills with serious dramatics..
Disc quality in Blu ray is superb; it's the perfect visual and auditory display of this marvellous performance.
One heart warming extra feature is the appearance of one of the most exceptional Elvira's of the 20th Century, Beverly Sills, seen and heard here discussing the opera's challenges just a few months before her death.
Not to be missed, gentle reader.
- Language: Spanish
- Subtitles: German, English, Spanish, Italian, French
- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Number of discs: 2
- Studio: Naxos Deutschland Gmbh / Kirchheim
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- ASIN: B0007CGPV4