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Bellini, I Puritani: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera.  Conductor: Giuliano Carella.  Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam, 11.2.2009 (SRT)



Elvira – Mariola Cantarero
Arturo – John Osborn
Riccardo – Scott Hendricks
Giorgio – Riccardo Zanellato
Enrichetta – Fredrika Brillembourg

Orchestra and Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera
Giuliano Carella (conductor)


Francisco Negrin (director)
Es Devlin (designer)
Bruno Poet (lighting designer)
Louis Désiré (costume design)

Esultate!  The art of bel canto singing is alive and well and is on display in Amsterdam this month.  It is rare indeed to find a performance of a Bellini opera these days, and with its vertiginous lead roles Puritani is rarer than most.  But it is such a treat!  Bellini spins out some of his greatest melodies in this, his final opera, and it was a special delight to hear it in Amsterdam last week.  This performance vindicated the work triumphantly, presenting it as a musical thrill that will stay with me for a long time.

All the lead singers are fantastic in their roles.  Mariola Cantarero takes a while to warm up as Elvira, but when she does so her tone is bright and clear.  If some of the top notes in the mad scene sound a bit shrill then this merely heightens the sense of a mind gone deranged, and she copes with the coloratura very well indeed.  Scott Hendricks’ baritone is honeyed and mellifluous.  His aria and cabaletta in the opening scene are really beautiful, and he rises to the challenge of his duet with Arturo with thrilling skill.  Riccardo Zanellato’s Chaplain is authoritative and sonorous.  His Cinta di fiori in Act 2 is really moving, while he is a convincing father figure to Elvira in the second scene of Act 1.  John Osborn’s Arturo steals the show, however.  The role was originally to have been sung by Eric Cutler, but Osborn’s singing far surpassed Cutler’s on his Met DVD.  There is a bright ring to his voice which reminded me of Juan Diego Florez and the top notes hold no traumas for him.  His C sharp in A te, o cara was confident, thrilling and long!  The same was true for the top Ds in Vieni fra queste braccia and, most thrillingly of all, he went for and hit the top F in Credeasi, Misera.  A fantastic performance to be proud of.  If he looks after his voice then he could well become the new leading leggiero tenor of our day.

Mariola Cantarero as Elvira

Giuliano Carella’s conducting was fine: pacing was generally well judged, though he carried on regardless in the great climax of Suoni la tromba, thereby making it feel rather underpowered.  He even included a trio which I had never heard before: it takes place in Act 1 for Arturo, Riccardo and Enrichetta just before Elvira’s entrance.  It holds up the action unnecessarily, so it’s easy to see why it’s cut, but it sounds lovely, and the voices blended very well indeed.

The production itself was a take-or-leave affair.  Costumes were well observed in the 17th century style, though the set was made of metal and looked a bit space age.  Each area of the walls was studded with Braille to show, the director suggested, that most of the characters unwittingly followed dogma – that’s why they were all running their hands over it so much.  Elvira and Arturo, on the other hand, write so they break out of this limited world and into something new.  The boldest touch is saved for the end.  When Arturo is surprised by the other Puritans he is shot in the chest, turning Credeasi Misera into a (quite convincing) death aria.  Elvira then returns to her madness and the whole scene with Cromwell’s letter and Arturo’s pardon takes place only in her head.  At the end of the scene Arturo is dead, and with him her dreams of happiness.  It’s fine, but it meant that the final ensemble was sung mostly behind a curtain which inevitably detracted from its power.

Still, nothing could dull my enjoyment of the best bel canto I’ve heard in many years.  A great evening that, with any luck, might inspire a revival of this fantastic opera for schedulers around the world.

Simon Thompson

Pictures ©  Clärchen and Matthias Baus

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