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Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > I Puritani (Bellini) - Synopsis


I Puritani - Synopsis
An Opera by Vincenzo Bellini


Opera in three acts, by Bellini; words by Count Pepoli, produced, Paris, Théâtre des Italiens, January 25, 1835, with Grisi as Elvira, Rubini as Arturo, Tamburini as Riccardo and Lablanche as Giorgio. London, King’s Theatre, May 21, 1835, in Italian (I Puritani ed I Cavaliere). New York, February 3, 1844; Academy of Music, 1883, with Gerster; Manhattan Opera House, December 3, 1906, with Bonci as Arturo, and Pinkert as Elvira, and in 1909 with Tetrazzini as Elvira.

CHARACTERS

LORD GAUTIER WALTON of the Puritans……………………. Bass
SIR GEORGE WALTON, his brother, of the Puritans………….. Bass
LORD ARTHUR TALBOT, of the Cavaliers…………………… Tenor
SIR RICHARD FORTH, of the Puritans………………………… Baritone
SIR BENNO ROBERTSON, of the Puritans…………………… Tenor
HENRIETTA, of France, widow of Charles I………………….. Soprano
ELVIRA, daughter of Lord Walton……………………………. Soprano
Puritans, Soldiers of the Commonwealth, Men-at-Arms, Women, Pages, etc.

Time: During the Wars between Cromwell and the Stuarts.
Place: Near Plymouth, England.

Act I. Is laid in a fortress near Plymouth, held by Lord Walton for Cromwell. Lord Walton’s daughter, Elvira, is in love with Lord Arthur Talbot, a cavalier and adherent of the Stuarts, but her father has promised her hand to Sir Richard Forth, like himself a follower of Cromwell. He relents, however, and Elvira is bidden by her uncle, Sir George Walton, to prepare for her nuptials with Arthur, for whom a safe conduct to the fortress has been provided.

Queen Henrietta, widow of Charles I., is a prisoner in the fortress. On discovering that she is under sentence of death, Arthur, loyal to the Stuarts, enables her to escape by draping her in Elvira’s bridal veil and conducting her past the guards, as if she were the bride. There is one critical moment. They are met by Sir Richard, who had hoped to marry Elvira. The men draw their swords, but a disarrangement of the veil shows Sir Richard that the woman he supposes to be Lord Arthur’s bride is not Elvira. He permits them to pass. When the escape is discovered, Elvira, believing herself deserted, loses her reason. Those who had gathered for the nuptials, now, in a stirring chorus, invoke maledictions upon Arthur’s head.





Act II plays in another part of the fortress. It concerns itself chiefly with the exhibition of Elvira’s madness. But it has also the famous martial duet, "Suoni la tromba" (Sound the trumpet), in which Sir George and Sir Richard announce their readiness to meet Arthur in battle and strive to avenge Elvira’s sad plight.

Act III is laid in a grove near the fortress. Arthur, although prescribed, seeks out Elvira. Her joy at seeing him again, temporarily lifts the clouds from her mind, but renewed evidence of her disturbed mental state alarms her lover. He hears men, whom he knows to be in pursuit of him, approaching, and is aware that capture means death, but he will not leave Elvira. He is apprehended and is about to be executed when a messenger arrives with news of the defeat of the Stuarts and a pardon for all prisoners. Arthur is freed. The sudden shock of joy restores Elvira’s reason. The lovers are united.

As an opera "I Puritani" lacks the naïveté of "La Sonnambula," nor has it any one number of the serene beauty of the "Casta diva" in "Norma." Occassionally, however, it is revived for a tenor like Bonci, whose elegance of phrasing finds exceptional opportunity in the role of Arthur; or for some renowned prima donna of the brilliant colorature type, for whom Elvira is a grateful part.

The principal musical numbers are, in act first, Sir Richard Forth’s cavatina, "Ah! per sempre io ti perdei" (Ah! forever have I lost thee); Arthur’s romance, "A te o cara (To thee, beloved);


and Elvira’s sparkling polacca, "Son vergin vezzosa" (I am a blithesome maiden).


In the second act we have Elvira’s mad scene, "Qui la voce sua soave" (It was here I sweetest accents).


For Elvira there also is in this act the beautiful air, "Vien, diletto" (Come, dearest love).

The act closes with the duet for baritone and bass, between Sir Richard and Sir George, "Suoni la tromba," a fine proclamation of martial ardour, which "in sonorousness, majesty and dramatic intensity," as Mr. Upton writes, "hardly has an equal in Italian opera."


"A una fonte aflitto e solo" (Sad and lonely by a fountain), a beautiful number for Elvira occurs in the third act.

There also is in this act the impassioned "Star teco ognor" (Still to abide), for Arthur, with Elvira’s reply, "Caro, non ho parola" (All words, dear love are wanting).





It was in the duet at the end of Act II, on the occasion of the opera’s revival for Gerster that I heard break and to pieces the voice of Antonio Galassi, the great baritone of the heyday of Italian opera at the Academy of Music. "Suoni la tromba!" -- He could sound it no more. The career of a great artist was at an end.

"I Puritani" usually is given in Italian, several of the characters having Italian equivalents for English names -- Arturo, Riccardo, Giorgio, Enrichetta, etc.

The first performance in New York of "I Puritani," which opened Palmo’s Opera House, was preceded by a "public rehearsal," which was attended by "a large audience composed of the Boards of Aldermen, editors, police officers, and musical people," etc. Signora Borghese and Signor Antognini "received vehement plaudits." Antognini, however, does not appear in the advertised cast of the opera. Signora Borghese was Elvira, Signor Perozzi Arturo, and Signor Valtellino Giorgio. The performance took place Friday, February 2, 1844.




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