Charles Affron, Mirella Jona Affron: Publications

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Puritani Quartet

Vincenzo Bellini died near Paris at the age of thirty-three at the height of his fame. Just nine months before, his I Puritani was clamorously received at its world premiere at the Théâtre Italien in the French capital--at the time also the music capital of Europe. Bellini wrote the opera for four preeminent singers, soprano Giuditta Grisi, tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini, baritone Antonio Tamburini, and bass Luigi Lablache.
 
 
Grisi and Mario
 
 
Tamburini
 

Lablache
       
 

At Bellini's funeral, the Puritani Quartet, as it came to be known, sang the words of the "Lachrymosa" to the melody of the sublime ensemble that concludes the opera, music whose extended phrases, so characteristic of the composer, are to the measure of deep sorrow. Here, in a 1972 performance at the Teatro Bellini during Bellini's centenary in his home-town Catania, "Credeasi misera" is expansively conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni, and movingly sung by Alfredo Kraus, the Arturo, and Adriana Maliponte, the Elvira. Maliponte did not achieve great renown during her nine-season Met career in the 1970s and 1980s, but she is fondly remembered for her haunting timbre, fine musicianship, and committed portrayals by those of us who were lucky enough to have heard her. More about Maliponte in a future post.
 


 
 
Elvira is first among equals in the Puritani Quartet. It is to her that I devoted my previous post. But Bellini also furnished remarkable opportunities to the male singers. The lovelorn baritone sings the first aria, "Ah! per sempre ti perdei." As recorded at that same centenary performance, Piero Cappuccilli has the reserve of breath needed to sustain the long legato line. Some of his decorative turns are slightly smudged, though not egregiously. The music shows off the exceptional equalization of Cappuccilli's voice; however splendid, the climactic note is the only note that seems "tacked on." Cappuccilli sang but a single performance at the Met, brought in by the emergency of Leonard Warren's sudden death in 1960. His recordings and the performances of Rigoletto and Simon Boccanegra I attended in Florence, Verona, and Vienna fully sustain, for me, his reputation as the dominant Italian baritone of his generation.





To the tenor falls one of the greatest challenges in the score. His entrance, "A te, o cara" (he is first heard in an offstage prayer), carries him high in the register. Pavarotti's Arturo was one of the glories of the Met's 1976 production with Sutherland, no surprise to those of us who heard him sing the role with Sills in Philadelphia in 1972. 




Ezio Flagello, a house singer rather than a star at the Met for nearly three decades beginning in the late 1950s, was most often cast in comic roles. He "looked" like a buffo and sang fifty-two Leporellos with the company. He was, nonetheless, an extraordinarily mellifluous basso cantante. The house was flooded with bass overtones when Flagello sang the servant to Siepi's Don Giovanni. Here he is in a different repertoire. Giorgio's aria is one of the best examples of Bellini's deceptive simplicity. In Flagello's rendition of "Cinta di fiori," you will hear how the insistent interval of the sixth allows the singer space for subtle expressive inflection. 







 








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