At a time when the whole of Europe was obsessed by Romanticism, what nation did not dream of Italy? Goethe's Mignon sings of the Sicilian countryside where an orange tree in full bloom can be seen silhouetted against the sky; Stendhal and Heine led their readers down Florentine lanes or beside Roman fountains; Glinka, the first thoroughly Russian composer, went there to learn about singing, an art that could be nothing if not thoroughly Italian. The dilettantes agreed with him and flocked to Italy from as far afield as London and Paris, Vienna and Saint Petersburg to hear the exponents of bel canto. The only country to escape this furore was Italy itself. Its romanticism, which, like all romanticism is an expression of dissatisfaction and yearning, could hardly fly its own colours. Its artists dreamed of mist and rain and sought the dismal shores of Shakespeare and Schiller and the simple melodies written for the blue sea and the sky. At the beginning of 1835, Bellini's I Puritani, performed by four of the most celebrated singers of the time, La Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini and Lablache, enjoyed unprecedented success with its story of hopeless love and revenge set in 17th century England and conveyed by some of the most beautiful vocal writing ever. In Act II, Elvira appears, seized by madness and singing a melody of such heartrending purity that it might well have inspired Chopin in the writing of a nocturne. The vogue for I Puritani swept all before it, including Bellini himself, who died a few months later in a villa in Puteaux, in the throes of melancholia.
Opéra Bastille - First performance on 25 November 2013 - 7:30PM
|Laurent Pelly||Stage direction and costumes|
|Patrick Marie Aubert||Chorus master|
Lord Gualtiero Valton
Dmitry Korchak / René Barbera
(17, 19 déc.)
Lord Arturo Talbot
Sir Riccardo Forth
Sir Bruno Roberton
Enrichetta di Francia
Sponsor of the Paris Opera’s live broadcasts
international tv distributor for Opéra de Paris Production
"One is born Bellini, one does not become him" said Rossini of the man who, in his time, was regarded as his successor. The composer of I Puritani nevertheless stood apart from Rossini, notably for his great virtuosity, his emphasis on the quality of melody, the pursuit of dramatic expression and the portrayal of emotion. Born in Catania, Italy in 1801 he died in 1835 in Puteaux. As a contemporary of Donizetti, he was trained at the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory in Naples where his masters of composition were Giovanni Furno, Giacomo Tritto and Niccolo Zingarelli. While still a student, in 1825, his first opera Adelson e Salvani was performed on the conservatory stage. There followed a commission from the Teatro San Carlo for which he wroteBianca e Gernando (1826), whose success led him to Milan in answer to an invitation from La Scala to compose Il Pirata (1827). Driven by an ever-enthusiastic reception, he then composed La Straniera (1829) for La Scala, Zaira for the Teatro Ducale in Parma (1829), I Capuleti e i Montecchi for Venice's La Fenice (1830), and, in 1831, both La Sonnambula for the Teatro Carcano in Milan, and his masterpiece, Norma, for La Scala. The fame the latter works brought him throughout Europe was dimmed in 1833 by the failure of Beatrice di Tenda, after which he broke with his regular librettist Felice Romani. Subsequently, on the initiative of Rossini, he was offered the opportunity to compose a work for the Théâtre des Italiens in Paris. Having moved to Puteaux, he wrote I Puritani, his parting work that the whole of Europe was to find irresistible. If Bellini is today known for his operas, he also wrote symphonies, arias, cantatas and sacred works revealing his melodic genius that has been praised by composers as diverse as Chopin, Wagner and Stravinsky.
In February 1834, Bellini signed a contract with the Théâtre des Italiens in Paris for the composition of a new opera. Deprived of a librettist since the dispute that opposed him to his longstanding collaborator Felice Romani, he turned to Count Carlo Pepoli, an Italian poet and patriot exiled in Paris. The two men fixed their choice on an episode from seventeenth-century English history, rediscovered by the Parisian public thanks to Têtes rondes et Cavaliers which opposed the Puritans led by Cromwell to the royalist supporters of the Stuarts. This play by Ancelot and Saintine, first performed on September 25 1833, was itself based on the novel Old Morality by Walter Scott, an author very much in vogue at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Rossini and Donizetti had composed respectively in 1819 and 1835, La Donna del Lago after his eponymous poem, and Lucia di Lammermoor, based on his novel TheBride of Lammermoor. The mysterious atmosphere portrayed by the Scottish author with its misty lakes and Gothic castles inhabited by heroines "absent from the world" offered the Romanticism of the day the settings and characters it needed. In the form imagined by the romantic spirit that brings it to life, the seventeenth-century of Bellini's opera has less in common with Scott's novel, to which it refers primarily by its title, that with Têtes rondes et Cavaliers in which it is rooted. The librettist's adaptations and cuts highlight the politico-religious conflict of Ancelot and Saintine's work providing a backdrop to a romantic drama which reaches a climax in a mad scene, as in Lucia di Lammermoor. The use of well-known devices from romantic opera did not save Pepoli from a number of blunders that Bellini corrected as composition advanced, albeit more slowly. Despite the cumbersome and improbable events of the libretto, the first performance, on 25 January 1835, was a triumph. Bellini's art was once again acclaimed and in particular, thanks to its fabulous central quartet, composed of Giulia Grisi in the role of Elvira (soprano), Giovanni Rubini in that of Arturo (tenor), Antonio Tamburini in that of Riccardo (baritone) and Luigi Lablache who sang Giorgio (bass). A vocal cast perfectly adapted to Bellini's sense of inventiveness and which, on the advice of Rossini, he had adapted to suit the demands of Parisian audiences: large-scale crowd scenes, singers behind the scenes for spatial effects, an orchestra with a powerful expressive function and a foreshadowing of what was to be specific to every Verdi opera: colour. These are the assets which the composer used to ensure the work's success. Among the most famous arias are Arturo's cavatina in Act I ("A te, o cara") in counterpart to Elvira's Act II"mad scene" ("Qui la voce sua soave mi chiamava") and the martial duo closing the same act between Giorgio and Riccardo ("Suoni la tromba"). The Cabaletta served as the theme for the six Hexameron variations (1837), a collective piano piece composed, among others, by Liszt and Chopin.
The first performance
I Puritani was first performed on January 25 1835 at the Théâtre des Italiens in Paris by Giulia Grisi (Elvira), Giovanni Battista Rubini (Arturo), Antonio Tamburini (Riccardo) and Luigi Lablache (Giorgio).
The work at the Paris Opera
The work entered the repertoire of the Paris Opera (Opéra-Comique) on February 28 1987, in a staging by Andrei Serban (a Welsh National Opera production) conducted by Bruno Campanella, with June Anderson/Michele Lagrange/Mariella Devia (Elvira), Rockwell Blake/Aldo Bertolo (Arturo), Eduard Tumagian /Vicente Sardinero (Riccardo), Giorgio Surian/Dimitri Kavrakos (Giorgio). It has not been performed since.