Tuesday, January 02, 2007


The Metropolitan Opera's controversial revival of Bellini's I PURITANI
will be shown in HD video/audio live from the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. Locally, you can see the Met live at REGAL GEORGESVILLE SQUARE STADIUM,
1800 Georgesville Road, about 10 miles from OSU. The date is Saturday, January 6. Showtime is 1.30. I'll be there for some pre peforamnce commentary at 1.15. Come say hello.

You'll find ticket info and more informaiton about these presentations at www.metopera.org
And check this blog every week.

Reports that the December 30th presentation of Mozart's MAGIC FLUTE (abridged) in Julie Taymor's staging played to packed movie theatres throughout the US are encouraging.
I PURITANI, one of the finest of all Italian language operas, might be a tougher sell. Come anyway. Here's why. Nobody who loves fine singing should give up a chance to hear this work "live". Bellini's long, grateful melodic lines, dependent upon the art of legato, are used to convey despair, joy, anticipation, worry....they take us way up and way down emotionally and are skillfully enough written so that a strong technique with a good top and a flexible voice should do very well.

I PURITANI (The Puritans)
music by Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)
libretto by Carlo Pepoli
first performance 1835

The story? Fasten your seats belts. Anna Russell couldn't have made this up:

We are in Plymouth, England immediately following the execution of King Charles I in 1649.
Mind you, everyone is dressed as British nobility or Puritans (Puritani) and everyone is singing I h0pe gloriously, in Italian.

Elvira is at last given permission to marry her beloved Lord Arturo, even tho her family is allied with Oliver Cromwell (the Puritani) and Arturo's with the nobility (Cavalieri). The marriage feast is interrupted by a mysterious veiled woman. This lady is Queen Henrietta Maria, the widow of Charles I--Lord Arturo gallantly spirits the queen away, leaving Elvira to believe he has abandoned her. She then goes mad. Literally. Mad scenes are an important part of the literature of Italian opera between 1820-1850ish. The most famous of such scenes, where the heroine's mind wanders while her voice has phenomenal demands made upon it, is that of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), Donizetti's Anna Bolena (1831) and Rossini's Semiramide (1819) . Back to Puritani: Elvira recovers her reason, Arturo returns-in fact the sound of his voice snaps her back into reality. But sadly, Arturo is himself condemned to death for his successful rescue of the Queen. But this is opera! Ninety seconds before the final curtain word comes from London-they had fast horses in those days-that Arturo has been pardoned and he and Elvira, now recovered are free to marry. Tremendous finale roulades from Elvira, a few ecstatic notes above the staff from soprano and tenor and all ends well.

Mad scenes were a way with coping with female sexuality in the early Victorian era. Bellini's markings for a lot of his Puritani music 'con gran dolore' 'con tutta la forza d'emozione' 'giacoso vivamente'are deliberate. The point for heroine and hero is to display their longing for one another, in good times and bad-- in music. More precisely in song. Two hundred years ago you couldn't be seen wanting it or doing it but you could certainly sing about it. And in Puritani, the singing is often about nothing less than passion, misplaced, misdirected, or finally joyfully-reunited.

This Saturday you will see the sets and costumes designed for Dame Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti back in 1976. (My recent interview with Dame Joan is on this blog.)
This writer, a mere lad in '76 saw three performance of the run from standing room. Pavarotti was phenomenal as Arturo. Wig, lifts in his boots and all, he sailed forth with a high D at the end of the opera that had 'em roaring in the aisles. He waddled around and Dame Joan patted his tummy at the curtain calls. Dame Joan? A miracle. The most magnificent singer I ever heard live. The voice was larger, higher, stronger, and the coloratura more astonishing than anyone else, before or since. Did they act? No. Did they look the parts? Sutherland was fifty and Pavarotti was-well, Pavarotti. Did you care? Give me a break. Was the singing miraculous and was Bellini well served? Yes. I later splurged on the most expensive ticket in the house...$25!
The Met had been sold out for weeks but the lady at the box offic etold me, "Here's a $25 ticket. One of our subscribers died."

We'll be hearing Anna Netrebko as Elvira, hailed a "the Audrey Hepburn of opera". She's gorgeous with a lovely voice. Opera-l and the rest of the web has been abuzz a la scandale over the illness of tenor Eric Cutler and his replacement, Gregory Kunde who is apparently finding Arturo tough going. Pavarotti for all his splendor told the New York Times thirty years ago that he was terrified of singing Arutro, going so far as to share "I have the dirarrhea". I would be remiss if I didn't mention fine opportunities for lusty macho singing from the character of Riccardo (Sir Richard) Elvira's jilted Puritan suitor, and that of Giorgio, Lord Walton her benevolent Uncle. They were Sherill Milnes and James Morris in my day. You kids have no idea...


Go whole hog. Sutherland and Pavarotti recorded this opera together..LONDON/DECCA

Maria Callas and Giuseppe di Stefano gave thrilling performances of I Puritani together in
Mexico City and Chicago. Callas is a very different phenomenon than Sutherland. She lacks Dame Joan's absolute dazzle. But nobody interprets Bellin's markings better than Callas.
She owned the role and her perforamnces in the fifties made possible Dame Joan's in the sixties, seventies and yes, eighties. Di Stefano sings voce aperto, with an opern throated excitement
that had him voicless by age 40 (Callas died at 53). He was a joy to hear in his brief prime.
Their recording is over fifty years old, and heavily cut. Still-it's Callas for God's sake! And the great Tullio Serafin condcuts. On EMI.

Thee's a two disc cheapie on Opera d'Oro of Callas and Di Stefano together in Mexico City in 1952-sound quality is terrible as are the orchestra, chorus and supporting players.
But those two are in glorious voice.

If you like I PURITANI, by all means listen to La sonnambula, Il pirata and above all, NORMA!

Next Met HD is Tan Dun's new opera THE FIRST EMPEROR with
Placido Domingo, Janaury 13th.


aim said...

never saw Sutherland in this role, but did hear the broadcast with Pavorotti. Breathtaking. We did hear her drown out several passing jets at the Hollywood Bowl one summer some 35 years ago. She was, of course, unamplfied. Will try to get up to the cinema this Saturday if at all possible--

Kathie Bracy said...

So glad to discover your blog -- a veritable treasure trove of information! I look forward to exploring it. I heard you give out its address on tonight's CSO broadcast. (I enjoy your comments, by the way.) My ears really perked up when you mentioned the Met in HD at the Regal/Georgesville.

Kathie Bracy, former CSO member

Anonymous said...

Heard you this am on the "Arts Unscripted" segment of WOSU radio. Had already pulled into my office parking lot and couldn't get out of the car until I heard all the details about the upcoming Saturay Metropolitan Opera viewing opportunity at the Georgesville theatre. So exciting! I am calling a friend right now to go with me. I also am thrilled to find your blog - I always enjoy what you have to say and am continually learning new things. Thanks for your hard work and sharing your love of music.


Anonymous said...

Is anybody familiar with the technical details of broadcasting? Why is the sound "flat" (only in stereo) not in the surround mode? I think that HD allows to broadcast sound via six channels -in surround mode?