Back in Naples 34 years since the last production, I puritani was initially scheduled in stage form. It was then decided for a concert performance instead which, though reducing the comprehensibility of the plot to less acquainted listeners, at least allowed concentration on the true musical heart of Bellini's score. Actually, this was the composer's final work and remains a monument to bel canto; an opera seria  (but unusually with a happy ending) in three acts on a quite implausible libretto by Carlo Pepoli, which is an adaptation of the play Têtes Rondes et Cavaliers by François Ancelot and Joseph Xavier.

Xabier Anduaga and Lisette Oropesa
© Luciano Romano

It is a love story set in England before King Charles I’s execution as ordered by Oliver Cromwell (Cromvello in the text). In the opera, the conflict between the Royalists and the Puritans provides a historical background, while the focus is on Elvira, a Romantic heroine gone mad from the alleged infidelity to her by Arturo. Eventually, she discovers she was wrong, comes back to her senses and the two get married.

The Teatro di San Carlo assembled an excellent cast, who were warmly welcomed by the public. Especially brilliant were Lisette Oropesa and Xabier Anduaga, who are already highly regarded in the bel canto repertoire. For Oropesa, an American soprano of Cuban origins, it was a full role debut, given in the city where Bellini completed his musical studies a couple of centuries ago. 

As Elvira, Oropesa was able to overcome the challenges posed by the role from the very beginning, duetting with Gianluca Buratto's Giorgio in Sai come arde in petto mio”, thanks to a gleaming, supple soprano, crystal-clear timbre, an effortless high register and a good command of thrills. She proved – contrary to many of her colleagues – that coloratura in operatic singing is not just an exhibition of vocal agility: it is the perceptible, theatrical evidence either of the anguish of the protagonist or of their outbursts of joy. And Oropesa moved masterfully through the score’s many demanding passages without losing dramatic focus. 

Lisette Oropesa
© Luciano Romano

“Qui la voce sua soave” was delivered with delicacy and an emotional charge of dramatic sense. In “Son vergin vezzosa”, Oropesa appeared in a stunning vocal form, with a sparkling sound and a precise staccato, with a charming tone across her whole range. She seemed at ease and confirmed herself as one of the best sopranos currently on the circuit. 

Anduaga, after a not-perfect performance here in Barbiere a few months ago, showed much greater authoritativeness and reliability here in the role of Artuto Talbo; enthusing the audience, he sang with elegance and great dramatic conviction. In his last act aria “Credeasi, misera”, Anduaga sang with a bright, steady tone, a wide dynamic range, and a variety of phrasing. His tenor was particularly dazzling in “A te, o cara”.

Completing the main quartet were Buratto, singing a heartfelt, reliable Giorgio, and Davide Luciano, who sang Sir Riccardo Forth. Luciano has a solidly harmonic baritone, along with a technically excellent emission and legato. In the duet “Suoni la tromba”, in which he agrees to Giorgio's insistence to make a common cause in Elvira's favour, the two intertwined in a highly effective exchange with great rhythmic and dramatic harmony.

Gianluca Buratto and Davide Luciano
© Luciano Romano

Buratto gave some effective, lyrical singing in Act 2's “Cinta di fiori”, in which Sir Giorgio tells the people about his niece’s madness. A final mention ought to be made of Chiara Tirotta, who sang Enrichetta with a heartfelt tone quite coherent with the character. The Coro del Teatro di San Carlo added strong presence and colour, and contributed to the good success of the evening.

The orchestra, especially the string section, gave a good performance under the baton of Giacomo Sagripanti, although the conductor with open supportive gestures seemed more of a coach for the singers – especially Oropesa – paying less attention to the orchestra. Sagripanti was nevertheless watchful of the score’s more dramatic passages.

It must be noted that the performance was based on the critical edition of the score by Fabrizio Della Seta, which included three musical moments rarely heard if not in recordings:  “Da quel di ch’io ti mirai”, from the Act 3 duet between Arturo and Elvira; “Se il destino a me t’invola”, from the Act 1 Arturo-Riccardo-Enrichetta trio and “Ah! Sento, o mio bell’angelo” by Elvira (Act 3).