i puritani: review
Bellini’s masterpiece, I Puritani, originally premiered in 1835, and has since rarely been performed due to it’s complex vocal scores. Last Thursday, a stellar cast made a single gala performance as a production by Victorian Opera. This bel canto rendition definitely lived up to expectations.
Aesthetically, the simple presentation worked in the show’s favour, with limited costumes and props allowing the audience to focus on the remarkable talent of all performers. Conductor Richard Mills and Orchestra Victoria mastered emotion and suspense through their immaculate performance. While the orchestra is typically located front of stage in the pit, during this performance they were placed behind the performers. This move indicated their familiarity with the recital and the excellence of Mills. The assembled Chorus also added balance and intensity, reinforcing the beauty of each act.
Set during the English Civil War, the show follows two lovers torn apart by politics and loyalties. With the leading role played by Australian Jessica Pratt, I Puritani tells the tale of Elvira, a Puritan who believes she has been abandoned by her Royalist fiancé on their wedding day. Her innocence is emphasized throughout the performance, making her guilt-stricken spiral all the more devastating. The music, initially joyful and enthralling, quickly warps as Elvira becomes hysterical, delusional and deeply depressed. Often, her voice would resemble heart-wrenching cries of desperation, commanding the viewer’s sympathy. The performance is described as “vocal fireworks” by the Victorian Opera, and Pratt’s voice undeniably proves this to be true. Her high hitting notes were luminous, breath taking and technically astounding. For me, this was the highlight of the show, and the audience resoundingly agreed with their shouts of “bravo!” If you ever have the chance to see her perform, please do.
Similarly impressive was the portrayal of Arturo, lover of Elvira, performed by internationally renowned tenor, Celso Hernandez. His portrayal was similarly impressive, with a natural flow and effortless to each note. Tragically, Elvira did not know he had actually left her to save the widow of King Charles Stuart. When he returned, Arturo found her withered away with grief. It was clear that Elvira’s fate was to be determined by the men around her, filling the audience with sympathy, and reflecting the gender inequality of that time. As a rewarding end, the two lovers reunite as Arturo returns and the Royalists declare amnesty.
All performers lived up to Bellini’s sublime vocal parts, which is no easy feat. While the other members of the cast were also highly talented, it was Pratt and Hernandez who stole the show. Overall it was a dramatic, beautiful masterpiece that magnificently honoured Bellini’s original production.