Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > I Puritani (Bellini)
An Opera by Vincenzo Bellini
The text of this opera was prepared by Count Pepoli from a poor novel, Ancelots "Les Puritains d'Ecosse." It is dull and confused, as Bellini himself admitted. "Poor Pepoli," he wrote, "was new to this trade, and did his best." But the libretto, he airily added, "did no harm to the opera, since few people understand Italian."
The story is founded on historical events between the Royalists and the Puritans at the time of the Civil War. It deals mainly with Lord Arthur Talbots love for Elvira, daughter of Lord Walter Walton, the Puritan governor of Plymouth fortress. Queen Henrietta Maria is confined in the fortress by Cromwells orders. Talbot, who is a cavalier, effects the Queens escape; and Elvira, believing him faithless, goes harmlessly mad. Talbot is subsequently arrested and ordered to be shot, but his pardon arrives in the nick of time. Then Elvira promptly and conveniently recovers her reason, and the pair are reunited.
As in the two operas already dealt with, Bellini here displays a wealth of expressive melodic material. Many of the songs have an almost pathetic beauty. The romance in the first Act, "A te, O Cara"; the polacca, the grand duet and the tenor solo of the closing concerted piece, produced the greatest enthusiasm at one time. The last movement of the duet was treated by "arrangers" for the piano in every conceivable form. This is the movement ("destined too soon," said one, "to find favour in the eyes of omnibus-conductors and all the worst amateurs of the cornet") of which Rossini wrote from Paris to a friend at Milan: "I need not describe the duet for two basses; you must have heard it where you are." This may have been a hit at the brazen accompaniments.
"I Puritani" (The Puritans) was written to order for the Théâtre Italiens, in Paris, and produced there in 1835, with such stars as Grisi, Tubini, Tamburini, and Lablache in the cast. It was staged in London next year for Grisis benefit, and proved such a success that for long years old habitués used to speak of the "Puritani season" as one of the most brilliant in their experience. "I Puritani" was Bellinis last opera. Immediately after his death, in September 1835, the Théâtre Italiens reopened with it. The beautiful tenor air in the third Act was sung at his funeral to the words of the "Lachrymosa."