Opera in three acts. Running Time: 2 hours 39 minutes.
I am on a Bellini fix right now. Please humor me with any comments.
The primary differences between this and the original are that Elvira is scored lower (mezzo range, especially in the second act) and Riccardo is pitched for tenor rather than baritone. Although this version was never performed in the 19th century (or any time prior to the 1980s) the end of the second act (a duet for Riccardo and Giorgio following the famous mad scene) was cut entirely due to its subversive and militant themes which were forbidden by the Naples censor. The act three aria Credeasi, misera, know for its tenor high f, is assigned to Elvira with different lyrics.
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1 (78 minutes)
Scene 1: The battlements of a Puritan fortress.
0, 8: La luna, il sol, le stelle The prelude ** starts off with a rather excited if standard orchestral exercise for twenty seconds followed by a unique cold dawn tune from the French horns. This is followed by more orchestra practice on this theme (three minutes overall), and then the male chorus comes on (to a return of the dawn tune) and eventually get much more energetic as the Puritan army anticipates victory over the royalist forces. All this is stopped in its tracks by the arrival of Bruno who summons all to the most Italianate of Protestant prayers to ever be sung by anyone *. Dancers arrive and people announce the upcoming wedding of Elvira (again in a most Italianate and unPuritan manner).
14, 17, 21: After what seems like never-ending chorusing (it is really only three minutes) we come upon Riccardo pining over his lost Elvira in three lovely, if brief, passages *. What is striking here is how each section of arioso and recitative flows into the next. Also, the up-pitch helps the number.
Scene 2: A room in said fortress.
25, 28, 33: Sai come arde, Piangi o figlia, A quel nome The scene consists of a duet between Elvira and Uncle Giorgio, the highlights being when Elvira declares she would rather die than marry Ricardo *, when Giorgio tells her that her father has changed his mind * and the racing finish ** as the two go off rejoicing that Elvira will get the man she wants.
Scene 3: Great hall in the fortress.
39: A te, o cara The first of the very long melodies ** from Arturo and Elvira with the chorus plugging away below.
49: Figlia a Enrico The furious duet ** Henrietta and Arturo identify each other, leading to him promising to find some way to save her ***.
51: Elvira returns with her bridal veil and (stupid) puts it on Henrietta, but she does this beautifully ***.
56: Riccardo encounters Arturo thinking he is running away with Elvira *. Henrietta drops the disguise and Riccardo decides to help them in order to free up Elvira. Arturo emotes for a very long time about how he really doesn’t want to leave Elvira but has to. A trio ** develops with Henrietta and Riccardo joining in before the escape.
71: Viene al tempio Elvira experiences a rapid psychological decline and is totally demented by the time she fantasizes that Arturo is taking her to the altar **.
76: Elvira explodes * as the chorus moves the act to a close.
ACT 2: A hall in the castle. (36 minutes)
9: After the orchestra waltzes about for eight minutes as the chorus trudges into exposition mode (not all that interesting) Uncle Giorgio gives us the sickroom digest in a mild aria *. This is followed by a recitative composed specifically for this version in which Riccardo promises to let Arturo kill him if he shows up at the battle which is to occur the following day.
19: Elvira herself arrives and we are in full-Bellinissimo mode ***, most especially from the orchestra and Riccardo, to the end of the act. Elvira thinks Riccardo is Arturo, the two men stand in awe of her suffering.
31: Elvira says goodbye *** and the act ends.
ACT 3: A park on the fortress grounds. (44 minutes)
8: Corre a valle The act opens with a two minute long storm (rather early-Wagnerian actually); Arturo comes on for ten solid minutes to make up for being gone all this time. Elvira is heard in the background, but there really isn’t anything worth mentioning until Arturo goes into an aria *.
14: The remainder of the act is made up of two sequences; the first is a duet between Arturo and Elvira **. It takes around ten minutes of tuneful explanations, but eventually Elvira has a break in the clouded sky of insanity.
25: Arturo expresses his love for Elvira in a beautifully high aria ***, more duetting until the second sequence when the Puritan army arrives to arrest Arturo (condemned to death by Parliament for jilting Elvira). Elvira starts to lose it again and calls for help, thinking Arturo is a stranger trying to abduct her.
34: Qual mai funerea Elvira embarks on her aria of protection in which she tries to save Arturo ***, realizing that the Puritan force have come to kill him.
40: The finale ** in which everything goes crazy (the orchestra, the chorus, Riccardo) but not Elvira though, who finishes off the opera satisfactorily.
My first encounter with Puritani was the 1953 Callas studio recording, which I worshiped for a time and which was the only Bellini I had in my entire collection for around a decade. Then I discovered that he actually was rather good, and since then I have slowly fallen in love with him, even if his vocal music is better than his orchestral handling. In order to impress the French audience, the orchestral effects here are given a more mature treatment, although they can still be primitive at times.
Sometimes I get the impression, listening to Norma or here in I Puritani, that not only did Wagner get orchestral ideas from Bellini, the latter even formed a leitmotif system. There are several reoccurring themes in Puritani which are in fact leitmotifs referencing emotions (insanity, love, jealousy, victory). Although duets, trios, and the like exist, oftentimes characters express themselves in short pseudo-Wagnerian monologues which cohabitate ensemble numbers.
Rescoring Riccardo for tenor is an improvement, as it lightens the act two mad scene and the opera in general. Also transferring male roles to tenor is always a musical improvement that I will not back off from. Moving the main act three aria to the female lead is also interesting, and perhaps a relief for the tenor who now does not have to sing that high F.
Puritani represents something that could have been. It is both the end of the first Bellini period, the beginning of the second period, and the end of him all at once. Techniques formulated here will be reincarnated into later Donizetti scores, Verdi, and Wagner. But it started here. An alpha.