1649 And All That

Bellini’s I Puritani is one of those 19th century operas that dishes out a version of 16th or 17th century English history that’s all but unrecognisable to anyone with any actual knowledge of the subject.  In this case we are in Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the nasty Puritans want to off anyone with a Stuart connection including the widowed queen Henrietta.  Various implausibly named Puritan colonels (everyone in the New Model apparently holds that rank) feature as well as a Royalist earl who is, of course, in love with the Roundhead commander’s daughter.  Immediately prior to marrying her though he decides to save Henrietta from execution and escapes with her thus triggering the obligatory mad scene, which is probably the main reason for watching this thing at all.  Finally Arturo (the earl) returns, is captured and, inevitably, sentenced to death.  As he is being led to the block Cromwell’s messenger arrives with the second most improbable reprieve in all of opera.  The Stuarts have been defeated and everyone is pardoned.  A happy ending with fortissimo soprano high notes ensues.

1.crossbowsThe recording made at the Metropolitan Opera in 2007 and broadcast as a Live in HD is of a production that dates back to 1976 and is literal in the extreme.  Unfortunately, in detail, it’s about as historically accurate as the work itself.  It’s a bit jarring to see troopers of the New Model Army dressed like 16th century Spaniards and carrying crossbows.  The leading lady too (here sung by Anna Netrebko) shows a rather un-Puritan amount of cleavage.  That apart, there’s really nothing much to say about design and direction because there isn’t much of it in evidence.

2.netrebko_relyeaIt’s a shame it isn’t more interesting because the performances are uniformly very good indeed.  The star is Netrebko of course.  She sings well throughout and really ups the voltage for the Act 2 mad scene where she throws herself around singing a good chunk of it lying on her back with her head back in the orchestra pit.  John Relyea. as her uncle, is also very solid and there is stylish singing from Eric Cutler as Talbot and Franco Vassallo as the spurned Riccardo.  Patrick Summers directs the Met orchestra in an equally accomplished account of the score.

3.madVideo direction is by Gary Halvorson and is pretty typical.  Given the dullness of the production the close ups are perhaps inevitable but I’m less sure about the weird camera angles.  I’m not sure shooting from behind the action towards the conductor is ever a good idea and Halvorson does it quite often.  On a more positive note, the Blu-ray disk has a 1080i picture and PCM 5.1 sound which is a real treat; very vivid and solid.  There are also DTS-HD and PCM stereo soundtracks.Extras are the usual Live in HD type interviews and backstage shots.  There are Italian, English, German, French and Spanish subtitles.

4.awwThere aren’t many modern video recordings of this work and this one can recommended for the music making if not the production. I’d really like to see a more imaginative stage treatment some time though.

12 thoughts on “1649 And All That

  1. John, what happened, was this was the last DVD at the library you hadn’t seen? Actually, I love this opera–it was one of the first operas I saw with Sills and Rudel conducting (believe it or not this makes a big difference). I was at one of the the performances in this run and felt like Trebs was trapped in some kind of alternate opera hell dimension Kunde was the tenor I saw and it was one of the worst tenor performances I have ever seen–try as I might I cannot forget his attempt at the F. I have to disagree with you about Summers. This performance was proof of Likely Impossibities theory that Bel Canto opera must be conducted poorly. Many strange little cuts and oh so slow. I have always hated this production even when new. It did cause quite a stir in 1976 because of the cast–Sutherland, Pavarotti, Milnes & Morris. Can’t believe the Met is trotting this out next season with two other horrible Bellini productions and no Wagner. Your seasons in Toronto may be a lot shorter but it seems like it is made up for in quality..

    • Actually what happened is that when I first bought a Blu-ray player this was one of comparatively few Blu-rays of opera around and it was quite cheap so I bought it. I tried numerous times to watch it but never got past the first few scenes. Finally I decided I just had to get through it and did!

      I can imagine this would really be Hell if the singing was less than first rate.

      I assume LI’s theory is somehow held to explain the existence of Richard Bonynge…

      I was reading Abbate and Parker “A history of opera : the last four hundred years” the other night and there’s some splendid snark about “traditional” productions. Something about recalling the era when the people bankrolling the production were last open to new ideas…

    • I think the last DVD at the library on my list is either a Tannhauser by Otto Schenk or an Opera Australia production of Les Huguenots by Lotfi Mansouri featuring a well known Australian husband and wife team.

      • So do you view these out of some sense of duty or is it masochism? You would have to pay me (a lot) to watch anything by Otto Schmuck–way to much of him here in NY.

      • I don’t think I’ll be able to bring myself to watch the Schenk. I may watch the Huguenots out of a sort of morbid fascination. Or maybe just to check that it isn’t quite as ghastly as the COC recording of Norma with Sutherland.


  2. I’m pleased you got some enjoyment from it as I really love this opera & it’s my favourite Bellini. Have you seen the Flórez, Machaidze, D’Arcangelo DVD? I think it’s slightly better than the one you watched.

  3. Pingback: The other Plymouth pilgrims | operaramblings

  4. Pingback: Puritans in Madrid | operaramblings

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