Fearless I’ll fight With All My Strength: A Review of I Puritani
Vincenzo Bellini’s lyrical jewel and final work, inspires spectators at the Met Opera, as the themes of religious and political division, intrigue and forbidden love create a parallel with the current cultural and geopolitical situation.
I Puritani is set during the English Civil War of Puritans (“Roundheads”) against the Royalists (“Cavaliers”). The music of the opera in three acts was set to a libretto by Count Carlo Pepoli － an Italian émigré poet and political exile living among the seething expatriate circles of Paris － whom Bellini had met at a salon run by the exile Princess Belgiojoso, which became a meeting place for many Italian revolutionaries.
Bellini laid out one basic rule for the librettist to follow, to epitomize the time of the Wars between Cromwell and the Stuarts: “The opera must draw tears, terrify people, make them die through singing.” Pepoli’s hotheaded support for his country apparently found inspiration in La Marseillaise － in the way it welds music and poetry to arouse feeling and provoke action － to write the duet Suoni la tromba, in which the two basses share a moment of patriotic fervor. For their homeland they will take up arms and gladly face death: Suoni la tromba, e intrepido / Io pugnerò da forte / Bello è affrontar la morte gridando “Libertà” (“Let the trumpet sound, and fearless I’ll ﬁght with all my strength. It is beautiful to face death shouting ‘liberty’.)”
The civil strife and individual madness of the time utterly echo today’s current affairs, as the art of bel canto takes center stage. However love is the true protagonist of the story, with all the customary complications that hinder the happiness of star-crossed lovers Elvira (Diana Damrau) and Arturo (Javier Camarena), during the 1640s in England. Elvira’s hand has been promised to Sir Richard Forth (Alexey Markov), whom she does not love, but she is madly in love with Arturo Talbo. Acknowledging his niece’s sadness, Elvira’s uncle, Sir Giorgio (Luca Pisaroni), convinces her father, Lord Gualtiero (David Crawford), to allow her to marry Arturo. At the wedding celebration, Arturo discovers that Queen Enrichetta (MaryAnn McCormick) is a prisoner in the castle. By covering the queen in a wedding veil, Arturo helps the Queen escape, and despite Elvira thinks that she has been abandoned she is finally reunited with Arturo and the two live happily ever after.
The Production by Sandro Sequi － through Revival stage director Sarah Ina Meyers, Set Designer Ming Cho Lee and Costume Designer by Peter J. Hall － gave life to a series of tableaux vivants, that evoked the color palette of the English portrait painter Robert Walker. Lighting designer Gil Wechsler created a dim luminescence, almost as if the stage were candle lit, providing further solemnity to the era that the opera is set in.
Maurizio Benini conducted the vibrant Diana Damrau, who animated the character of Elvira with her stupendous voice and majestic stage presence, as the chemistry with Javier Camarena, playing Arturo, sparked off rapturous zeal and sentiment. The performances by Alexey Markov and Luca Pisaroni, were impetuous and valiant, as soldiers caught up in the English Civil War.
The Met production’s conservative staging, genuinely conveyed the mystical allure of Restoration literature. Spectators were captivated by the theatrical pages, disclosed to them through the performers’ clarion voices.