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20 April, 2014

I Puritani at the Met.

I Puritani - Met Opera opening night Thurs 17th April 2014
Elvira - Olga Peretyatko
Giorgio - Michele Pertusi
Arturo - Lawrence Brownlee
Riccardo - Maksim Aniskin
c. Michele Mariotti
Dear Colleagues,
I was blown away with this performance of one of my favourite operas, despite the replacement an indisposed Mariusz Kwiecien.  Rarely since Sutherland days have I heard such a splendid bel canto pastiche on stage.  The conducting of Michele Mariotti was learned and sympathetic with the incomparable Met orchestra and chorus.  Ms Peretyatko (Mrs Mariotti in real life) is a phenomenal talent in every respect while Larry Brownlee and Michele Pertusi are at the top of their fields. 
Mr Kwiecien was replaced by Maksim Aniskin who, while not up to the standard of his eminent colleagues, was no embarrassment either.  I had also heard the dress rehearsal in which it was announced that Mr Brownlee was under the weather’, ‘marking some of his solo lines.  Mr Kwiecien normally sings supremely with his enormous, accurate and beautiful voice.  But nothing is easy in show biz! 
The 1976 production by Sandro Sequi uses a classical if somewhat faded series of settings with costumes of the era.  An indignant local reviewer wrote that the chorus members were dressed more like American pilgrims than a band of Parliamentary rebels in Devon apparently forgetting that his countrys founders were in fact rebel puritans like those in the opera fighting the establishment. 
Some people just want to know about the high notes and there were plenty.  For once there were E flats not only for soprano but also such heights from the tenor.  Mr Brownlee has a beautiful quality voice which is of sufficient size to be heard above chorus and orchestra in this enormous house.  He also interacts faithfully with his colleagues in the drama and is most dignified on stage.  He wisely omitted the falsetto high F immortalized by Luciano Pavarotti.  The replacement baritone hit an A flat at the end of Suoni la tromba, albeit a somewhat curtailed one.  For reasons unknown the conductor took the final duet section of this martial male twosome at double time, rather lowering this high point for me.  In other sections Mariotti allowed ample pauses and ralentandos for the singers, especially for his wife, just as Maestro Bonynge used to do for Joan Sutherland. 
Ah te, o cara was marvellous, followed by Son vergine vezzosa in Act 1.  The second act mad scene Qui la voce sua soave... Vien, diletto, e in ciel la luna was incomparable. 
Happily the joyous finale pyrotechnic Ah! sento al mio bell'angelo was included.  It was said that Richard Bonynge found this lost cabaletta which Callas never sang.  I recall also that it was the clip played by ABC radio when Sutherland’s death was announced in 2010.  It was for Joan Sutherland that this Met production was mounted 38 years ago – and it shows both its age and yet also its serviceability.  Another Bonynge find was a tenor-soprano duet in Act 3 used in the Pavarotti / Sutherland recording but omitted in the present Met version.  While a marvellous piece of Belliniana it does not contribute to the drama and prolongs the rescue part of the opera. 
Australian radio opera guru John Cargher used to say that this opera has three mad scenes - and it does.  Ms Peretyatko had a wonderful vocal formula for these scenes, each being close to the Sutherland versions vocally but with some original and tasteful inclusions in the coloratura.  Ms Peretyatko also had a lot more ways of going mad than just looking into space confused.  In one quiet section she giggled loudly while lying on her back. 
This was indeed a night of phenomenal singing and as with all Met performances now, if you like Bellini and you want a treat, listeners can down-load it on Sirius I understand.  But maybe wait until the wonderful baritone Mr Kwiecien is singing again.  It is extraordinary to find three bel canto operas this season in a house which used to studiously avoid them.  

Stop-press: Florez replaced by Camarena in Cenerentola, opening on Monday 21 April.  A new star is born!  More later.
Written by Andrew Byrne ..