Review: WNO - I puritani @ WMC
WNO have plunged into their autumn season highlighting a famous trait seen in opera - that of madness.
Characters who express madness chime with the bel canto era, the time Bellini wrote his last opera: I puritani.
This English Civil War epic is given an update to 1970s Belfast, with flashbacks to the original era (with impressive period costumes). Annilese Miskimmon's decision to do the work like this should be a total fit (even if it's a controversial decision), but it still wafts of a convoluted idea. Perhaps it is a safe bet to have this new production premier in another Celtic country (i.e. Wales) and make its points this side of the Irish Sea (there is no tour to Belfast it would seem).
Story-wise, Elvira is set to marry Riccardo (a protestant), but she loves Arturo (a catholic). In a twist of fate, she can then marry her beloved to the misery of Riccardo. Arturo, preparing for the marriage discovers a prisoner, who is revealed to be Enrichetta (Queen Henrietta Maria, widow of Charles I). He runs off with the disposed queen to save her life. In doing so all think he has deserted Elvira and thus commences her decent into madness (you expect a "mad scene" at the end of the evening, but here we have two whole acts).
Bellini is indeed a writer of "beautiful singing" with melodies that seem to go on forever and dramatic vocal lines that move and surprise you. The orchestra play as if they know Bellini by heart. The singers and chorus (who were very well choreographed as well) sang with might. Rosa Feola as Elvira was the big selling point of the show, a heavenly voice with much pathos, whose mad scenes were childlike, with a touch of wisdom.
Barry Banks as Arturo had a few stumbles in his delivery, his tenor is an acquired taste and requires further listening. David Kempster is an empathic Riccardo and sings with great emotional effort. Actress Elena Thomas was Elvira's doppelganger, who fused in and out of the staging, as a silent and unnoticed witness to the history play unfolding in front of her (or was it all in her mind?).
Like with some ambitious opera directing decisions (which don't always work out), I would say see this opera for the singers, orchestra and the bel canto score.
Rating: 3 stars
I puritani continues at the WMC till Sunday 4th October 2015, with brand new productions of Handel's Orlando and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, then on tour.
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Photo Credit: Bill Cooper