In Review > North America

I Puritani

BOSTON
Boston Lyric Opera
5/9/14

In Review Puritani hdl 514
Troy Cook and Sarah Coburn in Boston Lyric Opera's performances of I Puritani
Eric Antoniou for Boston Lyric Opera © 2014
In Review Puritani lg 514
Coburn as Elvira
Eric Antoniou for Boston Lyric Opera © 2014

Boston Lyric Opera brought their season to a wobbly close with a new production of Vincenzo Bellini's I Puritani (seen May 9) that was long on directorial concept but short on style. Bellini is one of the greatest composers of the Italian bel canto tradition, which relies on a singer's ability to spin a long musical line through flawless legato, vocal agility, elegant phrasing, and enormous breath control. Bellini is also the bel canto composer whose works are most compromised if not informed with stylistic energy — his melodies risk becoming merely pretty, the drama all but nonexistent.  Unfortunately, such was the case at this performance, and the pleasures — although there were some — were few and far between.

The production itself appeared to be an extended apology for the opera that Bellini composed in 1835. The plot, set during the English Civil War of the 1640s, is an admittedly slight affair that tells of the nearly doomed romance between the Puritan Elvira and her betrothed Arturo, a member of the opposing Royalist faction. Believing that Arturo has abandoned her at the altar, Elvira goes mad — only to have Arturo return, explain the misunderstanding, and bring things to a happy conclusion. 

The narrative is certainly rooted in nineteenth-century dramatic convention, but stage director Crystal Manich seemed to be at a loss what to do with it, veering between hyperactivity and no activity to little dramatic effect. And the happy ending was apparently too embarrassing for modern tastes, since the entire opera was set in Elvira's mind so Arturo could actually be murdered at the end, in spite of the complete lack of evidence in the libretto or Bellini's score for such a reading. This is not the first production of I Puritani that has gone this route, and there is certainly room for radical re-readings of traditional repertoire, but Manich's tepid and often mystifying staging obscured rather than revealed any deeper truths.

Sarah Coburn, returning to the company after a delightful performance in Il Barbiere di Siviglia two seasons ago, gave the strongest performance of the evening as Elvira. A compelling actress who knows how to employ ornamentation to illuminate character, Coburn was the centerpiece of the production. The other principals — tenor John Tessier as Arturo; bass Liam Moran as Gualtiero, Elvira's father; and baritone Troy Cook as Riccardo, Arturo's rival in love — were less successful in finding the space for Bellini's melodies to float and spin. Conductor David Angus, usually a musical chameleon, provided unusually stiff accompaniment for his vocalists. He was most effective when leading the orchestra in purely instrumental passages, drawing out some truly beautiful colors from his musicians and shining a spotlight on the strengths of Bellini's score. spacer 

KALEN RATZLAFF

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Current Issue: December 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 6