I puritani, Opera by V. Bellini
Organising a wedding can be stressful at the best of times. So how difficult would it be if the bride and groom were to come from the opposite sides of the English Civil War, a bitter dispute that raged for almost a decade?
Although history provided the context for Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, its central dilemma is one that is played out all over the world today. Elvira and Arturo are to be married. She is the daughter of a Roundhead fort commander; her fiancé, a Cavalier and a Royalist sympathiser. When a new prisoner is revealed to be the widow of the deposed king, Charles I, Arturo hatches a plan to free her by disguising her as Elvira. They are stopped and then let go by Riccardo; he wants Elvira for himself and getting Arturo out of the way would serve his purposes perfectly. Meanwhile Elvira, now uncertain of Arturo’s intentions, descends into madness.
Risking his own capture, and in all probability a warrant for his execution, Arturo returns to the fort and accompanies Elvira in a song, reassuring her of his steadfastness. But her state of mind is still brittle. When she hears the beat of a drum, she cries out, raising the alarm and alerting Riccardo and her uncle, Giorgio, to her lover’s presence. Now the gallows do await Arturo, but there is still one thing that might stop his sentence being carried out.
For its time, the story of I puritani is full of nuance untypical of the era it was written in. In their duet, “Suoni la tromba”, Riccardo and Giorgio agonise over plotting Arturo’s fate as they try to reconcile their duty with what would happen to Elvira if her lover were indeed to die. It all feels very real; the true, messy business of military conflict.
Premiered at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris on 24 January 1835, I puritani was both Bellini’s first and last opera produced in his lifetime in the French capital. He died unexpectedly only months later at the age of thirty-three. Fortunately, as operagoers at the Wiener Staatsoper will discover, he packed I puritani with music full of drama as well as composing showstopping songs for all of his principals.