I suppose in some ways Bellini’s I Puritani is the perfect bel canto opera. It has lots of great tunes, a wicked coloratura soprano part and an utterly ridiculous plot (my comments on the plot can be found in my review of the Met/Netrebko recording) and, of course, a mad scene. In this recording from Barcelona’s Liceu the soprano role of Elvira is taken by Edita Gruberova, surely one of the greatest ever in this genre. At 54 she doesn’t look ideal for the young bride to be but she can act and she gives a master class in bel canto style. What she has to yield to Netrebko in terms of looks and physical commitment she makes up for in sheer technical prowess.
The production, recorded in 2001, originated at WNO in 1982 and rather shows its age. Costuming is “realistic” and sets are mildly abstracted versions of a castle, a courtyard, a carriage etc. That said, Andrei Serban directs the singers with some care though sometimes his weird “military drill” movements for the chorus get a bit affected; definitely more Peruvian Palace Guard than New Model Army. What does work is various small details that convey that this is a world at war. Act 3, for example, is quite sombre in mood. Also, it feels much more authentic than the Met production with its fussy anachronisms (OK so Serban has an anachronistic bayonet during the overture but that’s about it). This production is straightforward but clean and simple and it works well enough.
Musically this is very fine with few weak links. Besides Gruberova there are fine performances from Simon Orfila as her sympathetic uncle and a Carlos Alvarez as her spurned suitor; the latter throttling back a very big voice for this music rather effectively. José Bros is suitably ardent as the cavalier earl, Arturo. He’s particularly good in Act3; both in his opening aria and his duets with Gruberova. Konstantin Gorny is a sympathetic father. Friedrich Haider conducts and besides suoporting the singers sympathetically brings out the rather richer than bel canto norms aspects of the score. This was, after all, Bellini’s attempt to get noticed by the Opéra de Paris.
Technically it’s fine. The DTS surround sound is clear and the picture is very good, helped by a not particularly long opera being spread over two disks. Toni Bargalló’s video directing is pleasantly unobtrusive. There are no extras. The booklet contains quite a useful essay and a detailed track listing. There are English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and Catalan subtitles.
This is worth seeing for some fine singing, especially from Gruberova, The production is not bad either, especially considering its antiquity, but I do want to see a treatment of this piece by one of the more imaginative directors.