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In Review > International

I Puritani

MADRID
Teatro Real
7/17/16

In Review Madrid Puritani lg 1016
Camarena and Damrau in Madrid’s Puritani
© Javier del Real

JAVIER CAMARENA took the Madrid public by storm on July 17, equaling the triumph he had earlier this season in Barcelona as Maria Stuarda’s Leicester. An hour into Emilio Sagi’s staging of I Puritani at the Teatro Real, the young Mexican tenor walked calmly onto the stage, smiling gamely, his eyes set on soprano Diana Damrau, who was sitting stiff with expectation at the other end of the proscenium. The moment Camarena began to sing Lord Arturo Talbot’s signature aria, “A te, o cara,” he captured the attention and affection of the audience with his pristine command of legato and laser-sharp attack on Bellini’s stratospheric high notes. During the opera’s long, meandering Act II (despite the glorious music, this libretto by the inexperienced poet Carlo Pepoli is probably Bellini’s worst), it was hard not to be grateful for the tenor’s presence. Whenever he appeared onstage, the lights shone brighter. 

Damrau sang beautifully as Elvira and sustained the soft notes with grace and distinction. Her artistry is intact, but the volume has decreased and the top notes at the end of the arias do not come as strongly or easily as before. In any case, Damrau and Camarena were an excellent team, offering impressive singing in scenes of despair as well as romance.  

Baritone George Petean’s Riccardo was a meaty-voiced, charismatic antagonist, and Cassandre Berthon sang her brief role of Queen Enrichetta with dignity and a vibrant, well-sustained mezzo. The best supporting singer was bass Nicolas Testé, whose rock-bottom notes shone in the group numbers as the dignified Giorgio. Veteran maestro Evelino Pidò infused brio in the martial moments and maintained a firm, flowing melodic arc in Bellini’s smoky arias.

The best that can be said for the staging by Sagi, a former artistic director at Teatro Real, is that it let the glory of the voices take center stage. There were floating candelabra dancing with the music, an army of chairs that the chorus members moved around and a sandy surface where the cast, dressed in heavy period costumes by Peppispoo, walked uneasily. No matter—what counted was the singing. The festival-quality cast of great voices that the Real gathered for this opera—a Bellini work that has aged considerably less gracefully than Norma or La Sonnambula—made this a memorable and worthwhile occasion.  —Roberto Herrscher



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