* Notes *
Bellini's last opera, I Puritani, had its Seattle Opera premiere at the beginning of the month, and Linda Brovsky's production is magnificent. The sets, the work of Robert A. Dahlstrom, look inspired by the Getty Center, as there are many steel staircases and landings. This kept the action in the vertical plane rather than the horizontal, so though the set was static, it was not dull. This also kept the staging simple and made the singers visible from different parts of the house. Peter Hall's sumptuous costumes were from the Met, though he modified them to work with the staging. The lighting designer, Thomas C. Hase, was tasteful in his approach, never harsh or overwhelming.
The horns were flat at first in the overture, and one note in the horn solo of Act II was sour, but they all managed to be in tune by the end. Otherwise the playing was good, the orchestra was usually with the singers and was not too loud. Also out of tune was Norah Amsellem (Elvira), from the very beginning I cringed at her voice during the off stage quartet (La luna, il sol, le stelle) in Act I. The arpeggios in first duet were poor, and the last note was quite unpleasant. Amsellem's voice is lucid and beautiful when she isn't flat, even resplendent, but she was often a half or quarter tone off. This was especially evident in Act III, when she sang "A una fonte afflitto e solo" and the tenor repeats these lines in "La mia canzon d'amore." She was most in tune for Act II, perhaps madness, at least at first, becomes her. Amsellem did look beautiful as Elvira and her acting was not bad.
On the other hand, Mariusz Kwiecien was wonderful in "Ah!, per sempre," his legato was gorgeous, and his singing as Riccardo was clearly distinct from his Don Giovanni of last season. In fact, I barely recognized him, his manner was so different and someone has finally figured out what to do with his hair. Kwiecien did rush during "Bel sogno beato" and was not with the orchestra, but sang beautifully in the rest of the opera. His singing in Act II with John Relyea was the highlight of the evening. Relyea was instantly recognizable from his gait and posture. His characterization of Giorgio wasn't terribly dissimilar from his Banquo or Garibaldo, as far as coloring, but he did sing well. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee did not have a convincing wig, but he was not disappointing as Arturo. His voice is bright and flexible, with a bit of strain at the top, but still lovely.
* Tattling *
The orchestra level was nearly all full, but before the performance began an usher kindly offered the standees seats as he explained that the opera was very long. Seattle Opera put two intermissions into this opera, which made for one 75 minute block, followed by 45 minutes and 35 minutes blocks that could have easily been combined.
There were no mobile phone rings, but there was one watch alarm with many beeps in succession during the Act II overture. Someone was making vocalizations on the orchestra level, I could not tell if they were singing along or just snoring. Plenty of talking, whispering, and coughing was observed, and a woman in Section 2 of the orchestra level, in Row BB Seat 6 both spoke and coughed a fair amount. I tried to look at her disdainfully when she stared at me during the Act III overture. I'm not sure why she was staring, given that she had to turn her head around to do this, and the light reflecting off her glasses made it very obvious that she was doing so.