I watched *I Puritani* online on June 30, 2021 (it was live on May 23). This was a concert performance of highlights, presented by Washington Concert Opera in Washington DC.
*Puritani* is an opera from 1835 by Vincenzo Bellini, one of the three major masters of bel canto opera. The other two, Rossini and Donizetti, wrote many more operas (Rossini: 30 - - Donizetti: 65 - - Bellini: 10), which makes his operas more special. In a sense. But isn’t every opera special…?
Conductor Antony Walker got things off to a promising start with a crisp and lively overture, played by a 19-member chamber orchestra wearing masks and socially distanced. Baritone Javier Arrey had the first aria and sounded fantastic. Nice, virile high note at the end of the aria.
Tenor René Barbera was next, singing with just the limpid and ardent tone that you want in this rep. A high note was a little hilarious because he got to it by baring his fangs. Hey honey, whatever it takes, he nailed it and sounded secure and free.
The headliner of this performance (for me) was soprano Brenda Rae, who I had seen in *Partenope* at the Met in March 2020 and look forward to seeing her in *Ariadne* and *Hamlet* there this coming season. It was Brenda’s former voice teacher, my friend Mimmi Fulmer, who told me about this performance. Brenda got her undergrad at UW-Madison - - I’ve never met her but we have a lot of mutual friends.
She’s the real deal, which she proved with her cavatina, aka entrance aria, “Son vergin vezzosa.” Dazzling singing, every note defined but smoothly executed. Masterful. And spectacular high notes. It’s not all about the high notes, but they’re an important (dare I say “essential”) part of the package.
Bass Musa Ngqungwana sounded a little wooly for my taste, but he didn’t do the performance any harm, and he sounded better in his big duet with the baritone. Maybe he just needed time to warm up. Maybe I should just get over myself.
Rae’s second aria, “Qui la voce,” was even more impressive than her first aria, full of feeling and long, legato lines, and some fabulous pyrotechnics at the end. I feel I should mention that she was the only one of the four singers who was performing without a score. These things are noted, people.
Bel canto opera isn’t really my jam, generally speaking, so this hour and a half highlights “Just the facts, ma’am” format suits me just fine. I once scandalized my dear friend Ethlouise by saying that the four hours of Mozart’s *Le Nozze di Figaro* could be easily summarized in a 45-minute highlights CD. I had to break out the smelling salts on that one.