I puritani returned to the stage of Teatro Regio in Turin twenty years after its last performance with a new majestic production, which combines dark hues with an impressive musical and vocal preciousness, ranging from Olga Peretyatko’s tormented Elvira, to Michele Mariotti’s sumptuous conduction.

Despite its happy ending, Vincenzo Bellini’s last opera I puritani is a 19th century wistful opera entirely permeated by deathly shadows, disenchantment, fading of love and sentiments forced or burdened by political intrigues. Not by accident, the plot derives from Jacques-François Ancelot’s and Joseph Xavier Boniface’s historical drama Têtes Rondes et Cavalieres and is vaguely inspired by Walter Scott. The gloomy medieval atmosphere is vivid and inevitably reminds the audience of bloody plots, such as Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, which was also developed from Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor. The libretto was commissioned to Carlo Pepoli, who realized a not entirely satisfying text that failed to match Bellini’s expectations and needed to be improved several times.

The story takes place during 17th century in a Puritan fortress in Plymouth. Elvira, noble daughter of Lord Valton, has been betrothed to Sir Riccardo Forth. However, everybody knows that she loves Lord Arturo Talbo, a Stuart knight and one of their enemies. Lamenting her sorrow with her uncle, Sir Giorgio, Elvira finds out that her father has finally consented to the marriage with Arturo. Right before the wedding, Arturo helps a mysterious captive (whom only he knows is Henrietta Maria of France, consort of the recently executed King Charles I) to escape from the fortress. Arturo is immediately suspected of betrayal and condemned to death. Elvira loses her mind and starts to rant and rave. Three months later, Arturo secretly manages to reach Elvira’s courtyard, where he sings a song (“A una fonte afflitto e solo”) which brings Elvira to health again. The “traitor” is then caught by the guards in front of Elvira’s house and is almost arrested, when the news of the defeat of the Stuarts is announced. An amnesty is given to all the Stuarts: Arturo can eventually embrace Elvira.

Fabio Ceresa’s mis-en-scene was brilliant. A sloping, bare rock platform was overlooked by the roof of a cold, gloomy and crooked gothic cathedral. The lighting was always sombre and subdued, the scenes studded with tombs from the very first scene, in order to immediately suggest presages of madness, loss and abandon, but also to emphasise the Puritans’ austerity and coldness. The cathedral’s background was gradually replaced by slices of a funereal sky, until the end, in which the political hate is finally removed and Elvira can celebrate her love with Arturo. Actors, who scampered around the stage throughout the performance, were a bit annoying: they looked like zombies and made an incredible noise while slithering around, without communicating anything interesting or useful to the plot. Costumes by Giuseppe Palella were imaginative but appropriate to the wider frame and evoked the 17th century. The idea of using black for Elvira’s nuptial veil, so to anticipate the bitter fate she was going to face, also worked well. 

The Orchestra of Teatro Regio did an outstanding job, along with the noteworthy Chorus of Teatro Regio, well instructed by Claudio Fenoglio. Michele Mariotti conducted magnificently, exploring with accuracy all the shades of this complex and passionate bel canto masterpiece. Rhythms were rapid, but never invalidated the morbidity and richness of Bellini’s expressive tinctures. The Sinfonia was very well executed, where Mariotti led the orchestra towards an inspired, dreamy and melancholic atmosphere.

Olga Peretyatko was a luminous Elvira. She sang with great competency, flawless phrasing and impeccable diction, illustrating good legato and also an intense presence on stage from the first moment. Maybe she could have dared more in terms of pure vocal virtuosity, abandoning herself to an even more intrepid performance. Nevertheless, she possessed all the resources to deal with this back-breaking role. “Son vergine vezzosa” was a triumph of trills and vocalises, which she executed effortlessly. Dmitry Korchak was a grand Arturo, endowed with a limpid and mellow voice. His “Son salvo, alfin son salvo”, when he comes back to the fortress, was sung with ease. The final duets of Arturo and Elvira were most moving.

Nicola Alaimo was a convincing Riccardo, who demonstrated his character's evolution from resentful rival in love to a compassionate, honest man in front of a mad and devastated Elvira. His pleasant baritone voice proved remarkable in volume. The rest of the cast was respectable: the paternalistic, mild Sir Giorgio of Nicola Ulivieri, Lord Gualtiero of Fabrizio Beggi and the resigned Henrietta of Samantha Korbey. 

I puritani is not the most approachable opera to deal with in the Italian repertoire: the musical score can be arduous and the vocal acrobatics are demanding, especially for Elvira. The same plot is very characterised and not easy to be modernised or re-interpreted: one of the merits of this production is a coherent and engaging direction, alongside with the refinement of the singing.