Notes and Editorial Reviews
This production, by Andrei Serban with sets and costumes by Michael Yeargan, originally was conceived for the Welsh National Opera in a co-production with the Netherlands Opera, and it was premiered in Cardiff in 1982. It also appeared with great success at Covent Garden 10 years later. The present video is of a performance given at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, to which the production traveled in 2001 as part of the Bellini bicentennial celebration.
Not to be too blunt about it, the sets and costumes are dreary enough to turn the fiercest Puritan into a Baal-ist. I don't mind the overwhelming blacks, whites, and greys of the costumes--they make the occasional splashes of red from Elvira truly festive. But the stage
is practically bare throughout, and Puritanism or not, people have to live. Besides that, this opera is the epitome of Romanticism, so why should the sets make us feel as if we're being punished? Act 1 contains a drawbridge, stairs, and a what may be a rampart, but it's all flimsy and at the back of the stage. Furthermore, the lighting by Robert Bryan is from above and behind for most of the act, so that we can barely see the expression on the characters' faces. Act 2's set consists of a wall, a staircase, and an archway, also at stage rear. And the inexplicable third act sports a snow-covered stage and a broken-down coach. Well, if the intention was to concentrate on the singing in the most literal-minded bel canto fashion imaginable, it works.
Serban's direction is no-nonsense, although I'm not sure why he has Elvira wandering the stage during the prelude, only to leave when the chorus enters. Is she lost? He gets the finest acting from Edita Gruberova I've ever encountered--her two mad scenes are truly moving--and elsewhere the characters interact with dignity and a correct Puritan reserve, although the chorus sometimes appears as a collection of androids. The direction for the screen (by Toni Bargalló) is excellent, the camera invariably on the right characters, and the mixture of close-ups and not-so close-ups keeps the eye interested.
But bel canto being what it is, the most important aspect here of course is the singing, and while not ideal, it's arguably among the best available. (Where is a video of this opera with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez? Or Sutherland or Sills or Scotto with Alfredo Kraus or Nicolai Gedda from the late '60s?) Gruberova is not at her best here, but when she's good, she's great. Her duet with Giorgio is somewhat strained, with the top note swooped up to unappealingly from miles below; "Son vergin vezzosa" is tentative, the high note skipped. Her Act 1 finale, after a bit of strain, turns spectacular, every note in place, glorious messa di voce on high notes, exquisite pianissimo singing. There's still some scooping, but less. Her grand scene in Act 2 is mesmerizing, and she's excellent in the final-act duet with Arturo. Gruberova rarely does well in close-ups, but here she leaves us with a truly moving portrayal.
The role of Arturo is equally challenging, and audiences tend to fear for most tenors who take on this part, with its frequent ascents to high B, C, and D (not to mention an F, invariably omitted). Young, energetic, secure tenor José Bros, seeming a bit like a young José Carreras but with a brighter sound that sits about a third higher, is marvelous. Cutting a dashing figure, he never misses a top note (and the final-act duet, requiring a couple of high-Ds, is not transposed down), and he sings with handsome legato. He partners Gruberova elegantly and just about walks away with Act 3. (This is the only act in which there are cuts in the score--very understandable in live performance--but there's still plenty of work for Bros to do.) Carlos Alvarez, now a leading Verdi baritone, may have too big a sound for Sir Riccardo, but he sings with passion, pointed diction, and fine coloratura. His acting convinces as well. Rounding out the major players, Simon Orfila is miscast as Elvira's uncle, Giorgio. His bass voice is far too light, he has little presence, and he looks like he could be Elvira's nephew. The chorus sings handsomely.
Conductor Friedrich Haider leads a well-paced, and as mentioned, almost complete performance, very sympathetic to the singers. He plays it for its bel canto grace and delicacy and the orchestra responds beautifully; the ensemble work is superb. In short, this is a fine Puritani, with the main roles taken by major talents. And after a while, if you try, the drabness of the setting takes a back seat to the singing--as rightly it should. There are subtitles in Catalan, Spanish, English, French, German, and Italian. Picture and sound are superb, with a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, and LPCM Stereo, with a 16.9 picture format.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
reviewing the original DVD release of this performance, TDK OPIP.
Lady Elvira Valton – Edita Gruberova
Lord Gualtiero Valton – Konstantin Gorny
Sir Giorgio – Simón Orfila
Lord Arturo Talbo – José Bros
Sir Riccardo Forth – Carlos Álvarez
Sir Bruno Roberton – Vicenç Esteve Madrid
Enrichetta di Francia – Raquel Pierotti
Liceu Grand Theatre Chorus and Orchestra
(chorus master: William Spaulding)
Friedrich Haider, conductor
Andrei Serban, stage director
Michael Yeargan, set and costume designer
Robert Ryan, lighting designer
Recorded live from the Gran Teatre del Liceu, 2001.
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Catalan
Running time: 159 mins
No. of DVDs: 2 (DVD 9 + DVD 5)
Works on This Recording
I puritani by Vincenzo Bellini
José Bros (Tenor),
Konstantin Gorny (Bass),
Edita Gruberova (Soprano),
Simón Orfila (Baritone),
Carlos Alvarez (Baritone)
Barcelona Teatro Liceu Orchestra,
Barcelona Teatro Liceu Chorus
Written: 1835; Italy
Date of Recording: February 8, 2001
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