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Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
I Puritani
Elvira Valton – Diana Damrau
Lord Arturo Talbo – Javier Camarena
Sir Riccardo Forth – Ludovic Tézier
Sir Giorgio – Nicolas Testé
Lord Gualtiero Valto – Miklós Sebestyén
Sir Bruno Robertson – Antonio Lozano
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real de Madrid/Evelino Pidň
Emilio Sagi (stage director)
rec. live, Teatro Real, Madrid, July 2016
Region Code: A, B, C; Aspect Ratio 16:9; 2.0 PCM & DTS 5.1
BELAIR CLASSIQUES BAC442 Blu-ray [181 mins]

I really enjoyed this Puritani. It’s a very distinctive set of voices in a pretty conservative production, and far more goes right than goes wrong.

Singing first. Diana Damrau is one of today’s most reliable coloratura sopranos. To my mind she has never quite had that star quality that sets the very finest artists apart, but that’s not to undermine her highly estimable qualities as a singer, all of which are on display here. On the one hand, she is totally at ease with the part’s taxing tessitura, and doesn’t ever shirk the showy high notes that end the showpieces. On the other, she has all the agility necessary to perform the coloratura that makes the part of Elvira so difficult, and she does it brilliantly. The high velocity runs and roulades of Son vergin vezzosa and Vien diletta, for example, are dispatched with brilliance and dazzle, but she can also evoke poignancy in the slower sections of her mad scenes, as well as in her duet with her uncle in the second scene. Of course, she can’t displace Sutherland in this role but, then, who can? I doubt that any open-minded music lover will go away disappointed.

Perhaps even more thankless is the tenor role of Arturo, but he is sung brilliantly here. Javier Camarena’s tenor is of the lighter-than-air variety, a world away from heavyweight CD favourites like Pavarotti or Kraus, but he brings a particular colour to the part that I found very winning, and he, too, has the athletic gift that the part needs to survive. A te, o cara floats delightfully, complete with outrageous top notes, and the colour of the voice makes his line stand out particularly in Credeasi, misera, a lovely effect. However, he also summons up great excitement, sounding heroically brilliant in Viene fra queste braccia and, even better, striking sparks off Ludovic Tézier in their Act 1 duet, one of the most thrilling moments on the disc. OK, he doesn’t go for the outrageous top F in Credeasi, misera but that’s surely only sensible!

The two baritones are top notch, too. Ludovic Tézier brings nobility and wounded dignity to the spurned lover, Riccardo, while Nicolas Testé sings the benevolent uncle very beautifully, especially in Cinta di fiori in Act 2. Smaller parts are well taken too, and Evelino Pidň proves his bel canto credentials in a reading that is safe, if a little idiosyncratic in terms of some of his tempi. However, he sanctions a pretty unforgivable cut in the final ensemble, for which he deserves a firm rap over the knuckles.

Emilio Sagi’s production is fairly abstract in its sets and unspecific in its costumes, but I’d rather have that than much of the interventionist claptrap you get elsewhere. Chandeliers and chairs appear subtly to evoke changing scenes, and the outdoors are fairly well done, too. I particularly liked an effect at the end of the first act when a gauze curtain descends to separate Elvira from the rest of the cast, illustrating the isolating effect of her madness. The only problem is that somewhere, either due to the production or the mechanics of the house, there is a very pronounced flickering effect in certain wide-angle shots, and it began to play havoc with my eyes after a while. Since you only see it in wide pans, not in close-ups, I’m certain it’s not because of my TV or Blu-ray player. If you can reconcile yourself to that then you’ll be fine.

Unlike Norma, I Puritani has been very lucky on DVD, but I think that, reservations aside, this one probably just about makes the top of the pile if you want to see it as well as hear it. I’ll always have a soft spot for the Amsterdam version, mainly because I saw it in the theatre, and the Bologna performance is worth seeing for the Arturo of Juan Diego Florez. The New York performance is a guilty pleasure for its lavish setting and the (totally inauthentic) Elvira of Anna Netrebko, but this one combines the best of several versions and is probably now the top recommendation for a film. Flickering aside, the picture quality on my BD was excellent, as was the surround sound.

Simon Thompson



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