Friday, April 25, 2014

The wound

I Puritani - Metropolitan Opera, 4/18/2014
Peretyatko, Brownlee, Aniskin, Pertusi / Mariotti

When one sees Bellini's final opera, it's hard not to draw comparisons with 1835's better-known mad scene masterpiece, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. British civil strife, lovers from opposite sides, political machination, an interrupted wedding resulting in madness, etc. But where Donizetti and his librettist Cammarano (later librettist for a number of Verdi operas including Trovatore) perfectly and tautly draw the forces of im- and interpersonal necessity that crush Lucia, Bellini's attempt to drag his dramatically undistinguished librettist Pepoli to triumph is less than complete. Still, there's a surprising payoff to Pepoli's weakness: the poor focus and flimsy construction of Puritani's dramatic bits leave the field free for its Romantic-lyrical solos to set the tone without much competition, in a way almost unheard in the rest of the operatic canon.

The show is, of course, bookended by the tenor's arias of satisfaction and harmony, the first of which ("A te, o cara") may be the only part of the opera familiar to most listeners (or at least those raised on tenor highlight albums). But for all the wonderful opportunities these present, the bulk of the show's musical and scenic interest is in Elvira's lamentable state. This abandoned bride, like Lucia or those other fragile operatic madwomen, finds herself in terrible disharmony with the world... but fortunately for her and for us, the crushing forces in her opera are not so swift and insistent and final as in others'. Instead they pause and withdraw and even listen in as she -- and Bellini -- spin out the timeless lament of Eden (here in its fragile Romantic guise of personal romantic communion) lost. How quickly other concerns here are dropped at the onset of these sounds -- like those of a lost, oblivious Orpheus -- to reappear transformed at the end of the act in the affirmative tones of patriotism...

Much depends, then, on the soprano, and newcomer Olga Peretyatko (wife of this run's conductor) is a pleasure to hear in the part. The control and range of her voice are extremely impressive, the tone and timbre less so but good enough. As one might expect with her husband in the pit, she does quite well with Bellini's lines and phrases... what she doesn't have is the direct from-the-heart eloquence for which Elvira's part seems to beg. But Peretyatko's virtuosity, though perhaps better heard in a sharper-edged role, still does much here. (The last revival of Puritani unfortunately featured a soprano who couldn't sing it in tune at all.)

Lawrence Brownlee, better than I've ever heard him, was the main star, and the main reason to see this show. Not only did he match Peretyatko for virtuosity and musial focus, but he did so with a tone that would now be the envy of most tenors who can't touch that ridiculous high F in the finale, not to mention all of those who can. I sort of wish there'd been some operatic version of the Leo Messi youth HGH treatment that could have made Brownlee an even bigger (both literally and otherwise) star, but vocally there's not much more one might hope for.

Belorusian baritone Maksim Aniskin also debuted, filling in reasonably well but unexcitingly for the ailing Mariusz Kweicien. Michele Mariotti, as in his debut two years ago, conducted in a sensitive and singer-friendly way.

Not Norma, but still a treat.

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Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.