Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome – Bellini’s I Puritani – Linda Richardson, Alessandro Luciano, David Kempster; directed by Annilese Miskimmon; conducted by Carlo Rizzi

I Puritani – Opera in three Acts to a libretto by Count Carlo Pepoli [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Bruno Robertson – Simon Crosby Buttle
Elvira – Linda Richardson
Arturo Talbot – Alessandro Luciano
Riccardo Forth – David Kempster
Giorgio Valton – Wojtek Gierlach
Gualtiero Valton – Aidan Smith
Enrichetta (Queen Henrietta Maria) – Sian Meinir

Actress – Elena Thomas [mute additional role]

Chorus & Orchestra of Welsh National Opera
Carlo Rizzi

Annilese Miskimmon – Director
Leslie Travers – Designer
Mark Jonathan – Lighting Designer
Kally Lloyd-Jones – Choreographer
Paul Woodfield – Tour Lighting

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 17 November, 2015
Venue: Birmingham Hippodrome, England

Rosa Feola (Elvira) and Aidan Smith (Gualtiero Valton) with WNO ChorusI Puritani, Welsh National OperaPhotograph: Bill CooperBellini’s I Puritani is something of a rarity these days, so all praise to Welsh National Opera for addressing this, and in such style. Annilese Miskimmon’s production deftly outlines that failure of genuine reconciliation post any strife with a religious foundation that can span centuries. Placing the action in the final days of the English Civil War for the opera’s central scenes yet counteracting that by placing the outer ones in the modern-day Northern Ireland by use of visual references such as Orange Order banners made this point very clear indeed. Even the normal ‘happy’ ending was eschewed in favour of something unsettling and unresolved, and somehow did not militate against the music. If the continued presence of a modern-day Elvira on hand to witness the misfortunes of her 16th-century equivalent occasionally distracted, it was dramatically stimulating.

Praise too for the musical performance – Carlo Rizzi’s way with the score was taut and understated except where necessary for dramatic effect. The WNO Orchestra was on fine form, and the accompaniments to the singers’ long lines were exquisitely moulded and reflective of the dark moods of the work.

The story of I Puritani is that of a domestic narrative played out to the background of the Civil War. The once-popular device of romantically spurned heroines going “mad” until their lovers return is hard to depict credibly, and Miskimmon’s liberty with the action is a good solution in that Elvira remains traumatised by her betrayal and her loss of Arturo. Linda Richardson turned in an account that got better and better. Earlier she seemed less at ease, particularly in the elaborate polacca where her coloratura wasn’t quite the required effortless show of virtuosity, largely as her embellishments didn’t ring out confidently. Once she got to her big scenes of Acts Two and Three she was well in her stride, and during the long arching lines of ‘Qui la voca sua soave’ you could have heard a pin drop.

Rosa Feola (Elvira) with WNO ChorusI Puritani, Welsh National OperaPhotograph: Bill CooperAs Arturo WNO was lucky to secure Alessandro Luciano as a replacement for the ailing Barry Banks. Luciano has a light voice, and although the macho elements of Arturo’s music were not fulfilled entirely satisfactorily, there were compensations elsewhere in that his honeyed tone, sense of line and beautiful mezza-voce made his romantic utterances a delight to listen to. He also has the treacherous high notes in his armoury and these were voiced with thrilling aplomb!

David Kempster made one realise how pivotal the role of Riccardo is, his sterling baritone suiting the part well and his expert breath control paid dividends. Wojtek Gierlach’s warm bass also made an impact in his portrayal of Elvira’s benevolent uncle. The chorus, and the singers of the minor roles, were all excellent. The power of Bellini’s music and Richardson’s introverted depiction of Elvira’s trauma made potent chemistry. This is a production worthy of revival.

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