Monday, January 8, 2007

Purely Anna

I Puritani
composed by Vincenzo Bellini
libretto by Carlo Pepoli
conducted by Patrick Summers
starring Anna Netrebko (Elizabeth Futral on February 15)

The Metropolitan Opera
West 62nd and 65th Streets and Columbus and Amsterdam Aves.
December 27, 2006-February 15, 2007



Bel canto opera flourished in the early 19th century in Italy, as composers like Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini penned works graced by a style of excessive vocal ornamentation. Bel canto still has many adherents who are fans of the great female singers who've made their mark in this repertoire (most famously, Maria Callas and Beverly Sills) rather than the works themselves which, aside from admittedly juicy parts for top-notch sopranos, offer hackneyed plotting and soapy melodramatics.

The Met's production of Bellini's I Puritani has returned as a showcase for the immensely gifted Russian soprano Anna Netrebko, who's about as big a star as you can find these days in the opera world. And with good reason: Netrebko is one of the very few telegenic opera stars, with a winning stage presence and a voice equally at home in Mozart's 18th century as it is in Prokofiev's 20th century.

In I Puritani, Netrebko doesn't disappoint. As Bellini's heroine, Elvira, Netrebko does her considerable best to make this cliched love story work: in 17th century Puritan England (hence the title), Elvira is in love with Arturo, who loves her, but it takes her uncle Giorgio to persuade her father to let them marry. After various machinations too risible to describe at length (although it must be mentioned that she goes mad in the second act after she believes Arturo has betrayed her), the lovers are reunited for a happy wedding. Even Riccardo, the man whom Elvira forsook for Arturo, joins in the general merriment.

Conductor Patrick Summers and the Met Orchestra combine for a glistening account of Bellini's melodically rich score; Franco Vassallo (Riccardo) and John Reylea (Uncle Giorgio) are the best of a good supporting cast. But it's Netrebko's show all the way, and she makes the most of it, doing dramatic wonders with the Act II mad scene, which could easily degenerate into an occasion for mere showing off; instead, she makes Elvira's descent into madness believably touching. And since she's such a charismatic, charming onstage presence by simply walking out onstage, I Puritani is worth attending as long as Anna Netrebko is the star.

[FYI: For the last Met performance February 15, the equally enticing American soprano Elizabeth Futral sings the role of Elvira, a rare instance of a replacement singer who's on the same rarefied level.]

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