A brave attempt at an old classic and executed brilliantly.
Francesco Izzy, associate Professor of Music at the University of Southampton, says ‘I puritani epitomises bel canto at its best – exploring and depicting characters, situations, and emotions through the singing voice’.
I Puritani (translated: The Puritans) focuses on a young couple, Elvira (Rosa Feola) and Arturo (Barry Banks), at the centre of the conflict between the roundheads and cavaliers during the English Civil War. Elvira is originally betrothed to Protestant Riccardo (David Kempster) but after displaying her unhappiness, her father relents and lets her marry catholic Arturo. Unfortunately, the lovers never make it to the altar, with Arturo’s religious conscience forcing him to rescue the stuart queen and flee after being labelled a traitor. Elvira falls into a depression/madness to the horror of the townsfolk and her admirer and this is where the true drama falls.
Bellini’s English Civil War drama has vocal fireworks aplenty. However, when performed by the Welsh National Opera they are never at the cost of character, story or emotional depth. I puritani contains a cavalcade of great opera moments. One such moment is the scene in which our heroine Elvira, having lost her mind, longs for her lover Arturo. Rosa Feola’s spectacular high notes emphasise her emotional distress and truly show a perfectly trained ability. None among the cast were strong enough to steal the show from the incredible talent. Another stand out moment, is the duet in which the reunited lovers share what they believe will be their final embrace.
It is often said that I puritans is rarely performed because it is hard to find a cast who can tackle Bellini’s demanding score. Welsh National Opera’s teams includes one of today’s great tenors, Barry Banks, following his triumphant performances in William Tell and Moses in Egypt. Banks wasn’t the only male talent here though, as his rival Riccardo sung by David Kempster commanded the stage with an authoritative and well practiced vocal presence.
Annilese Miskimmon’s new production combines the historical atmosphere and costumes of the English Civil War. At first however we start in a more contemporary setting of Northern Ireland, with the Protestants wearing the sash of the Loyal Orange Institution, or more commonly known as the Orange Order. Though never expressly delivered, the subtle nod to the Irish protestant/catholic conflict adds a sense of familiarity to the original historic setting that appeals to the modern viewer.
Though perhaps not suited to all, this classic love story is simply timeless and the voices that bring it to life are well-trained and spectacular. A truly great performance from all, accompanied by a superb orchestra. Of course, like all good operas, this ends in tragedy, but thankfully the production is far from that.
Welsh National Opera continues its tour onto Bristol. For more info visit their website.