Opera Scotland

Puritani I Puritani; The Puritans

Music
Vincenzo Bellini (born Catania, 3 November 1801; died Puteaux, nr Paris, 23 September 1835)

Text
Conte Carlo Pepoli

Source
French drama Têtes Rondes et Cavaliers (1833) by Ancelot and Boniface.

Premieres
First performance: Paris (Théâtre-Italien), 25 January 1835.
First UK performance: London (King’s Theatre, Haymarket), 21 May 1835.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 22 January 1855.
Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (City Hall), 29 March 2009 (concert).

Background
I puritani is Bellini’s final opera, composed after his move to Paris. It suffers from the fact that the libretto is not by his long-time collaborator Felice Romani, but by an exiled amateur poet, resident in Paris, who had markedly less talent. However Bellini had more time at his disposal than ever before and took particular care over composition and orchestration. The result was an immediate popular success, and the four singers who created the leading roles became known as the “Puritani Quartet” – Giulia Grisi (Elvira), Giovanni Rubini (Arturo), Antonio Tamburini (Riccardo) and Luigi Lablache (Giorgio). Anyone familiar with Sir Walter Scott’s 1816 novel Old Mortality will be mystified as to why it is so often described as the source for this plot. The opera is set entirely in Plymouth, and although the full title was originally I puritani di Scozia and some of the characters have Scottish names, of Old Mortality there is little sign.

Characters
Elvira, a Puritan, daughter of Lord Walton (soprano).
Sir Bruno Roberton, a Puritan, friend to Riccardo (tenor).
Lord Gualtiero Valton – Lord Walter Walton, a Puritan, governor of the fortress (bass).
Riccardo – Sir Richard Forth, a Puritan (baritone).
Giorgio – Sir George Walton, a Puritan, brother of Lord Walton (bass).
Enrichetta di Francia – Queen Henrietta, widow of Charles I (mezzo-soprano).
Lord Arturo Talbo – Arthur Talbot, a Cavalier (tenor).

Plot Summary
The setting is Plymouth, in 1649, shortly after the execution of Charles I. Elvira is in love with a fugitive Cavalier officer, Arturo, but is loved by Riccardo. Her uncle has persuaded her father to permit the marriage to Arturo, and he arrives under safe conduct to proceed with the wedding. However Arturo recognises the widowed Queen, a prisoner about to be transferred to London for trial, and he abandons Elvira in order to spirit the Queen away, disguised under Elvira’s veil. The Puritan’s are enraged at the betrayal, and Elvira, believing herself abandoned, goes mad.

Arturo is condemned to death in his absence. Elvira continues to rave, and Giorgio attempts to persuade Riccardo to have Arturo pardoned in order to save Elvira’s life. He eventually agrees reluctantly, though he will not save Arturo if they meet in battle. A few more months pass, the war continues, and Arturo sneaks in to explain events to Elvira and beg her forgiveness. Elvira’s mind remains fragile, and her cries bring everyone else to the rescue. The knowledge that Arturo is now to be killed sends her over the edge again. In the nick of time, word comes that the war is over and the Royalists pardoned – the wedding can go ahead.

The Cast

Arturo Talbo
 Lord Arthur Talbot, a Royalist
Bruno
 Sir Bruno Roberton, a Puritan officer
Elvira
 daughter of Lord Walton
Enrichetta
 Queen Henrietta Maria, widow of Charles I
Giorgio
 Sir George Walton, Lord Walton's brother, a retired Puritan colonel
Lord Gualtiero Valton
 Lord Walter Walton, a Puritan and Governor General
Riccardo
 Sir Richard Forth, a Puritan colonel

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