OPERA NEWS - Viewpoint: The Company He Kept
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Viewpoint: The Company He Kept

by F. Paul Driscoll.

Viewpoint Puritani Illustration lg 217
Detail from a British lithograph of Giulia Grisi (Elvira) and Luigi Lablache (Giorgio Walton) in I Puritani at the Kings Theatre
Royal Academy of Music/Lebrecht Music & Arts

THE WORLD PREMIERE of I Puritani at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris, on January 24, 1835, was an unqualified success for its singularly ambitious and original young composer, Vincenzo Bellini, then just a few months past his thirty-third birthday. When the inaugural run of Puritani ended, in March 1835, Bellini seemed poised to attain further artistic and professional glory, but Puritani was to be his last work for the stage. The composer died in September, after a brief illness. 

During his sadly short lifetime, Bellini’s success was inextricably connected to the great singers of his day. Among these were Giuditta Pasta, the imposing singing actress who created the title roles in Norma, La Sonnambula and Beatrice di Tenda; the mercurial Maria Malibran, regarded as an incomparable Amina; and Henriette Méric-Lalande, the vivid French star who sang in the premieres of Bianca e Gernando, Il Pirata and La Straniera. But the artists most closely associated with Bellini’s music were the brilliant stars for whom he wrote Puritani—soprano Giulia Grisi, tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, baritone Antonio Tamburini and bass Luigi Lablache—who were ever after known as “The Puritani Quartet.” In May 1835, just before the foursome sang the English premiere of I Puritani at the King’s Theatre, they offered a preview performance of the opera at Kensington Palace, where it was much admired by the future Queen Victoria, then sixteen. Victoria remained devoted to Bellini’s opera for the rest of her life, always referring to it as “the dear Puritani.”

On February 10, I Puritani returns to the Metropolitan Opera, with Maurizio Benini pacing a sterling cast of twenty-first-century bel canto stars—Diana Damrau, Javier Camarena, Alexey Markov and Luca Pisaroni. On February 15, OPERA NEWS and the Metropolitan Opera Guild will present a “Singers’ Studio” program with the Met’s new Puritani Quartet; details can be found at www.operanews.com/singersstudiospacer 

Viewpoint Driscoll Signature 815  

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