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Bellini: I Puritani / Muti, Caballé, Kraus, Hamari, Et Al

Release Date: 02/26/2008 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 09149   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Julia HamariDennis O'NeillStefan ElenkovAgostino Ferrin,   ... 
Conductor:  Riccardo Muti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ambrosian Opera ChorusPhilharmonia Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BELLINI I puritani Riccardo Muti, cond; Montserrat Caballé ( Elvira ); Alfredo Kraus ( Arturo ); Matteo Manuguerra ( Riccardo ); Agostino Ferrin ( Giorgio ); Dennis O’Neill ( Bruno ); Stefan Elenkov ( Gualtiero ); Julia Hamari ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Enrichetta ); Ambrosian Op Ch; Philharmonia O EMI 09149 (3 CDs: 172: 19)

For an opera that needs four quality artists to succeed fully, hence the expression “The Puritani Quartet,” it is curious that recordings are usually identified by just the soprano. Occasionally the tenor is recognized, but how many opera fans can name the baritone and bass in most of the Puritani recordings? For purposes of brevity, I, too, will refer to the recordings by their leading ladies.

The most popular (mostly studio-based) recordings are the ones with Callas (EMI), Sutherland 1 and 2 (Decca), Sills (Westminster-DG), Gruberova (Nightingale), Callas (EMI), and this one with Caballé (EMI). Some good recordings made during performances have also circulated, sometimes on more than one label, sometimes in more than one issue on the same label, including good ones conducted by Muti with Freni and Pavarotti and Bonynge with Mariella Devia and William Matteuzzi.

Several of the studio sets are complete (Sutherland 2, Sills, Caballé), some are nearly complete (Gruberova), and some have considerable cuts (Sutherland 1, Callas). Some recordings present the opera with vocal embellishments, but this one with Caballé is notorious for remaining faithful to the printed score. This creates the false impression that the Muti/Caballé Puritani is plain vanilla and others have chocolate sauce and a cherry on the top. Bellini included plenty of fioritura in his score; but for interpolated high notes and ornamentation look elsewhere.

Muti and company deliver an exciting I puritani without extra added ingredients. Muti holds everything together with very tight reins in a performance that is well thought out, with much attention to detail. I found his 1969 live broadcast with Freni and Pavarotti, available on Nuova Era, to be more flexible; but it is interesting to see what a decade of experience and ruminating on the score produced in the studio. Caballé may not be the flashiest Elvira on disc, but she responds well to the music with some truly lovely singing. Kraus lacks the visceral abandon Pavarotti brings to the role, yet his patrician approach to Arturo works well and delivers the goods on the high notes. Matteo Manuguerra and Agostino Ferrin are not my favorites for Riccardo and Giorgio (I admit to a preference for Piero Cappuccilli and Nicolai Ghiaurov on Decca), but I found much to admire, especially the extended scene they share with Caballé that closes the second act.

EMI has released this album on CD three times that I’m aware of. Each time the price is adjusted, the packaging is changed, and the cover art becomes more cartoonish. It now comes to us in a cardboard box, each disc in its own cardboard sleeve, and a basics-only booklet that provides a brief essay and a synopsis of the plot (with musical descriptions!) tied to track numbers; a separate table of contents lists track numbers with musical titles and timings. Two Web addresses are listed on the back of the box for folks interested in obtaining a libretto; however, at the time this review is written (March 2008), EMI has not updated the Opera Classics Web site to include this release. Do not lament the loss of a libretto. Even Bellini recognized that his librettist, Carlo Pepoli, was better at writing pretty verses than constructing a stage-worthy plot. This opera endures because it has wonderful music. This recording of I puritani endures because it is very good.

FANFARE: David L. Kirk
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Works on This Recording

I puritani by Vincenzo Bellini
Performer:  Julia Hamari (Alto), Dennis O'Neill (Tenor), Stefan Elenkov (Bass),
Agostino Ferrin (Bass), Matteo Manuguerra (Baritone), Alfredo Kraus (Tenor),
Montserrat Caballé (Soprano)
Conductor:  Riccardo Muti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ambrosian Opera Chorus,  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1835; Italy 
Date of Recording: 1979 
Venue:  Kingsway Hall, London, England 
Length: 172 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Language: Italian 

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