I Puritani


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I PURITANI

Composer: Vincenzo Bellini

Libretto: Carlo Pepoli

First Produced: Théâtre-Italien Paris, 1835

Present Company: Metropolitan Opera, 2007

Director: Sharon Thomas

Sets: Ming Cho Lee

Costumes: Peter J. Hall

Video Director: Gary Halvorson

Orchestra: Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus

Conductor: Patrick Summers

 

Cast

Riccardo: Franco Vassallo

Elvira: Anna Netrebko

Giorgio: John Relyea

Arturo: Eric Cutler

Gualtiero: Valerian Ruminski

Enrichetta: Maria Zifchak

 

Specs:

Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-50

Opera: 44.19 GB

Bit Rate: High (34~38 Mbps)

Italian DTS-HD HR 5.1

Italian LPCM 5.1

Italian PCM 2.0

Subtitles: Italian, German, English, French & Spanish

Region: All

Opera runtime: 155 minutes

Deutsche Grammophon 2007

 

Grade

Conception & Staging: A-

Costumes: A+

Casting: A

Singing: A

Orchestra: A

Music Direction: A

Video Direction: B

Image: A

Audio: C-

Extras Features: C

Recommendation: B


 

Introduction

As Beverly Sills jokes in the intermission interview with Margaret Juntwait:

MJ: “This story. . “

BS: “This what?”

MJ: “. . is rather unusual”

BS: “Yes, if you can find it.”


        


Historical Background

The action takes place about 1652, fifty years after the death of Elizabeth, the last of the Tudor monarchs.  The Stuarts, who followed, died out with the execution of Charles I in 1649, and were replaced by the Commonwealth whose first and most prominent leader was Oliver Cromwell.  Charles had difficulty resolving religious differences in the realm (no surprise given the historical legacy of Henry VIII), and gained the particular antipathy of the Puritans, who came to some ascendance after the death of Elizabeth.  Not long after the events of Bellini’s opera, the Puritans lost whatever political and clerical influence they once had and left England or became otherwise absorbed.


        


Synopsis

The young Puritan Elvira (Anna Nebtrebko) is promised to Riccardo (Franco Vassallo), but her heart belongs to Arturo (Eric Cutler), a Royalist.  Thanks to her uncle, Giorgio (John Relyea), Elvira’s father relents and goes back on his promise to Riccardo, who is not only unhappy but feels righteously betrayed, made all the more nastier by the announcement that his beloved is now to marry an enemy. 


On the day of their wedding and only moments after he has plead undying fidelity to Elvira, Arturo learns of the secret identity of a prisoner being made ready for execution: It is Enrichetta, the widow of Charles I.  With no time to lose he spirits her out of town under the watchful eye of Riccardo.  The opportunity is too much to pass up, and Arturo is branded a traitor and, under Cromwell’s order, sentenced to death in absentia.


        


Elvira, who knows nothing of the Queen, assumes that Arturo has merely ran off with another woman, which leads to the first of her two mad scenes.  The villagers are torn between sympathy for Elvira’s grief and their wish for revenge on Arturo for having aided in the escape of a Royalist prisoner.  Riccardo and Giorgio, once on opposite sides of the question of Elvira’s future are untied in their mutual dislike of Royalists.


Three months later Arturo returns to accept his fate, but his thoughts are only of Elvira.  They meet and she is overjoyed to learn that his betrayal was not to her but only to her countrymen.  (Don’t laugh - she’s only an adolescent.) The townspeople interrupt them and demand Arturo’s head even against her pleas for mercy.  At the last moment, word from Cromwell arrives to announce the defeat of the Stuarts and the pardon of all prisoners.  Rejoicing is had by all.


        


Comment

Vincenzo Bellini belongs to that group of famous “classical” composers that died young (Mozart, Schubert, Bizet).  He was not yet 34 when he succumbed to an intestinal illness.  Bellini is known primarily as a composer of operas, his most well known - La sonnambula, Norma, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Beatrice di Tenda, and I puritani - were written between 1830-35.  The endless spinning of melody in what has come to be known as bel canto singing is his trademark.


If you are relatively unacquainted with Bellini, you might think of him as a poor man’s Verdi, who didn’t come into prominence until the following decade with Ernani and Macbeth.  Compare, for example, Giorgio’s heartfelt second act aria Cinta di fiori to another Giorgio in another second act: the Pura siccome un angelo of La Traviata.  Closer than you thought, eh!


        


Bellini eschewed his usual favorite librettist, Felice Romani, for Carlo Pepoli, whose reputation is such that he doesn’t even rate a page in Wikipedia.  Whether this move accounts for some of the more blatant storyline bewilderments I can’t say, but its cacameme ending, the painting of Arturo as one of the great jerks in all opera in his trusting of Riccardo and leaving Elvira at the altar, and Eduardo’s second act change of heart and boldfaced alliance with Riccardo after all he went through to obtain approval for Arturo - an alliance that Pepoli fails to capitalize on, by the way - leave little beside two and a half hours of great singing opportunities for soloists and chorus plus two delicious mad scenes for Elvira.  In short I Puritani is one of those operas naysayers point to when they want to make a case for grand gestures signifying nothing.


        


Presentation

This 2007 production of I Puritani was one of the Metropolitan Opera’s Live at the Met series that would see a simultaneous screening in movie theaters all over the world.  From what I’ve read of reviews on line by attendees back then, this Blu-ray bests anything theater audiences saw at every level.  The Met did their usual knock out job in respect to costumes and sets.  The production design is traditional (even a little dull), the costumes sumptuous, if a little too colorful for the Puritan Elvira.  But that’s just historical detail; this is opera.


The video camera is more agile and adventurous than on other opera Blu-rays.  It even tracks across the front of the stage at a low angle without obstructing audience view.  At times the camera in the stage right wing takes in the action at the front of the stage and the conductor as well.  Your reaction might differ, but I find this silly.  On the other hand, these Met performances seem to enjoy looking over their shoulder during these broadcasts (I’ve always enjoyed the Opera Quiz) and this Blu-ray is no exception.  There is no quiz, but Renée Fleming interviews Anna Netrebko in her dressing room between acts - the mind boggles at the audacity - but if it bothers you, you can always skip on to the next chapter with your remote (thank the gods!), an especially valuable feature on replay.


        


The Met audience is its characteristic demonstrative and disruptive self - at times to ridiculous lengths, such as the lingering applause that greets the end Elvira’s second act mad scene.  Not only do all the people on stage - including Miss Netrebko - have to remain frozen in place until the audience is good and ready to release them, there is only another three or four minutes until the end of the act, making their interruption anticlimactic as well as annoying, especially on replay.  Meanwhile Video Director Gary Halvorson cuts from this view to that, trying to make something out of nothing.


Video & Audio

Except for just a few brief moments of easily overlooked overexposure, the image quality is exceptional: contrast is under control, with noiseless blacks and natural color.  The stage light is often so evenly distributed that depth can be difficult to come by, so make certain your display is correctly calibrated.  Sharpness and coherence is also very good, though facial texture seems soft compared to what’s possible.  Nothing to object to here, in fact it’s all in keeping with the production.


        


Wish I could speak as kindly about the audio, but there are problems here that keep this Blu-ray from getting my unequivocal endorsement.  For some reason - there must be a reason - Deutsche Grammophone provides three optional uncompressed mixes, two in surround (DTS and PCM) and one on stereo.  None of them are satisfying, though the stereo is by far the most dynamic.  The worst of it is that none of these tracks are flattering to Miss Netrebko.  It’s not that she is rendered in anything like harsh terms - quite the contrary.  Except for her two mad scenes, she comes off as lackluster, even bored.  To make certain of my impression, I compared her voice on DG’s Blu-ray of the Met’s Don Pasquale and Vienna’s Anna Bolena.  Both yield considerable life where in this DG/Met recording there is none. 


Franco Vassallo’s Riccardo is even worse.  He sounds so uninteresting we have to wonder why the Met thought he could pull off this not very demanding, but important role.  Eric Cutler and John Relyea are least squandered by the audio, but we can only imagine what we are missing.


        


The chorus, not to put too fine a point on it, sounds dreadful.  It is apparent that they sing well, but the presentation is opaque, diffuse, without texture.  It is this diffusion that characterizes both of the surround mixes.  Even with two soloists on opposite sides of the stage, they sound like they are both in the middle and somewhat out of phase.  What’s more, the stage mikes do not cover a soloist evenly as he moves across the stage or turns his head - the sudden difference in level is quite noticeable on good playback equipment.  The surround mixes hide this defect better, but it is there nonetheless.


Performance

So here’s the rub: given the poor audio, it is hard to judge the singers.  No one actually misses their notes or their cues and everyone is in tune and in time with the orchestra.  Cutler was out for several days before this performance and it is impressive that he does as well as he does - quite well, near as I can tell - even though he falters slightly on one high note and smartly settles for optional lower notes elsewhere.  John Relyea was reported to have been suffering with bronchitis when the opera opened, but by the time of this shooting, he was almost his old self again.


        


Except for Miss Netrebko, most everyone else is in stand-and-deliver mode, while she emotes ad emotes.  Which reminds me that, while I can understand the inclination, Halvorson gives all the closeups to Anna, and hardly any to anyone else.  The sheer number of them tends to throw the drama out of balance.  Again, I can sympathize with wanting to gaze at her lovely face as much as possible, I’m just not convinced that this was the way to go.


Patrick Summers does a journeyman’s job with the Metropolitan orchestra.  I rarely felt all the zest I know is latent in the score, but this may have been hampered by the audio.  I should add that the orchestra is less affected by audio mix troubles than the stage - still, I opted for the stereo which allows for sufficient breadth and bass.


       


Bonus

DG does not list the two dressing room intermission interviews with Fleming and Netrebko, but you can find them in the Titles subsection of the Main Menu.  One of the two items listed is a three minute backstage conversation with Fleming and technical director Joe Clark - leading us to the obvious conclusion that one or more of the bonus features was not taped the night of this performance.  No matter.  The highlight here is the thirteen minute segment in which Margaret Juntwait speaks with Beverly Sills before and between acts.  Back in the 1960s and 70s, Beverly Sills was at the top of the bel canto soprano food chain - everywhere but at the Met, where Rudolf Bing’s head was for too long up his ass about only hiring Italians to sing Italian opera.  What an idiot!  At least he lived long enough to regret his policy.  Naturally the limited time here does allow for any commentary in depth - it’s constantly interrupted by the opera in any case - but Miss Sills remains her casual, approachable, smiling self - not much different from the superstar I was introduced to at a fundraiser in San Jose some thirty years ago.  The present interview was recorded exactly six months before her death of lung cancer at 78.


        


Recommendation

How can one not get entirely behind a video that looks this good, with a top notch cast led by La Bellissima, Anna Netrebko?  If so-so audio doesn’t bother you as much as it does me, and especially if you are a die-hard fan of the diva, then by all means, go for it.  I doubt you be disappointed.



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

July 23, 2012



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