Strong Cast Heads a Realistic Bellini Classic

United StatesUnited States Bellini, I puritani: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Lyric Opera of Chicago / Enrique Mazzola (conductor), Chicago. 4.2.2018. (JLZ)

Adrian Sâmpetrean, Lawrence Brownlee, Anthony Clark Evans, and Albina Shagimuratova in I puritani (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)
Adrian Sâmpetrean, Lawrence Brownlee, Anthony Clark Evans, and Albina Shagimuratova
in I puritani (c) Todd Rosenberg

Elvira – Albina Shagimuratova
Arturo – Lawrence Brownlee
Riccardo – Anthony Clark Evans
Giorgio – Adrian Sâmpetrean

Conductor – Enrique Mazzola
Director – Eric Einhorn
Set Designer – Ming Cho Lee
Costume Designer – Peter J. Hall
Lighting Designer – Chris Maravich
Chorus Master – Michael Black

With its uniformly strong cast for Bellini’s I puritani, Lyric Opera of Chicago demonstrates the opera’s power. Among the leads, Lawrence Brownlee stood out, with his luxurious tenor and superb technique, making the sometimes treacherous passages of Arturo’s arias secure and expressive. He was spot-on for his first aria, A te, o cara’, delivering the lines with fervor, and the melismas with virtuoso clarity. His use of rubato gave the phrases and corresponding cadences suitable tension and panache.

Brownlee was similarly strong in the third-act ‘Corre a valle’, a response to Elvira’s ‘A una fonte afflitto’, and later, his ‘Credeasi, misera’ was a tour-de-force in bel canto style, with rich tones powerfully shaping each phrase, including a climactic high F.

As Elvira, Albina Shagimuratova delivered the role with studied accuracy. Her first-act aria ‘Sai com’arde in petto mio’ demonstrated her even range impressively, but in florid passages, she was not always able to clearly render the melismas. She was stronger in ‘Oh, vieni al tempio, fedele Arturo’, and the most memorable moment was the cabaletta at the end of Act III, ‘Ah! sento, o mio bell’angelo’, done with remarkable ease and focus.

The secondary roles were delivered with style. The Romanian bass Adrian Sâmpetrean persuasively sang the role of Giorgio, Elvira’s uncle, and left an even stronger impression than he did in last season’s Lucia di Lammermoor. In Act I, Sâmpetrean’s duet with Elvira gave the audience a taste of the power he would bring to Act II’s concluding ‘Suoni la tromba’. And Anthony Clark Evans delivered a full-bodied, resonant portrayal of Riccardo, Arturo’s rival for Elvira’s affection, and worked well with Sâmpetrean in the second act.

In addition, the chorus, directed by Michael Black, showed strong stage presence and ensemble, especially in the deft, stylish conclusions of the first and final acts. At times the offstage passages sounded slightly distorted, perhaps due to amplification, but on stage, the voices were unquestionably powerful. Conductor Enrique Mazzola brought additional virtues: firm leadership, good eye contact with those onstage, and a fine sense of rubato lend additional expressivity to some of the more prosaic passages.

For this 1976 production, originally from the Metropolitan Opera, Ming Cho Lee’s sets place the story firmly in the seventeenth century, and the realistic approach holds up well, almost filling up the Lyric stage. One small comment on the printed notes: I puritani is not a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but a rather different animal, with its libretto by Carlo Pepoli, based on the drama Têtes Rondes et Cavalieres (Roundheads and Cavaliers) by Jacques-François Ancelot and Joseph Xavier Saintine.

James L. Zychowicz

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