Great moments in opera: I Puritani

December 2, 2009

The opera I chose to hear this week was Vincenzo Bellini’s I Puritani, from 1835.  The plot is not worth dwelling on at length, but briefly: in England at the time of the Civil War two star-crossed lovers, Arturo and Elvira, are devastated by Elvira’s forthcoming arranged marriage to another man.   As the story develops, Elvira’s distress causes her to lose her reason (thus providing Bellini with a fine opportunity to write a mad scene).  Her arranged marriage is set aside in Act III and she recovers her reason, but then loses it again (just in time for another mad scene).  In the end the lovers are united and live happily ever after.

The main reason to listen to I Puritani, in other words, is for the singing.  But we’re in luck: few composers could write as beautifully for the voice as Bellini.  The opera is full of gorgeous melodies.  My favourite aria was Qui la voce sua soave, from Elvira’s first mad scene.  Here it is, sung by Joan Sutherland in a live 1961 recording.

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