CAST: Elvira: Joan Sutherland, Arturo: Luciano Pavarotti, Riccardo: Piero Cappuccilli, Giorgio Valton: Nicolai Ghiaurov, Enrichetta: Anita Caminada, Gualtiero: Gian Carlo Luccardi, Bruno: Renato Cazzaniga
Chorus of the Royal Opera House
Chorus master: Douglas Robinson
London Symphony Orchestra
Richard Bonynge, conductor
This is one of the most famous recording of Vincenzo Bellini’s I Puritani, featuring an outstanding cast of belcanto superstars.
Joan Sutherland as Elvira is the best you could wish for a bel canto singer, although in this recording she does not equal the brilliance that had characterized her earlier Puritani in 1963 with Pierre Duval, Ezio Flagello and again Richard Bonynge on the podium. Ten years later, however, Sutherland still has an impressive easiness in coloratura and, even if she lost something in brilliance (high notes sometimes do not have the shine to which she accustomed us), she improves in expressiveness. The more recent Elvira has also more grace and delicacy than the previous. The real wonder is the rondo finale, Sento o mio bell’angelo, recently discovered (Maria Callas, another historic Elvira, never sung it), to the point that it seems to have been written especially for Sutherland. The only real flaw, as usual, lies in her diction, but this is far more annoying in Norma than in Puritani.
Luciano Pavarotti is an Arturo with a brilliant voice, but his personality stands out better in the third act rather than in the first: in A te, o cara he appears cautious rather than in love, especially since his chronic difficulty in keeping time here is more than ever destabilizing. He redeems himself completely in the last act, where he really offers a performance that is deservedly passed into history for both his vocal and expressive qualities. The tenor is not particularly elegant, but it has an extension and a timbre that led him naturally to shine. In the duet with Elvira, he sings even an F-sharp 4, actually written by Bellini for the first Arturo, the legendary Rubini, but, as it may be impressive to hear, in my opinion that note produces always a grotesque effect, breaking the spell of the duet (it does not matter if it is sung by Pavarotti or someone else).
Piero Cappuccilli (Riccardo) has never been a true Bellini singer and it is clear, but nonetheless he is the most expressive of the four protagonists, portraying with abandoned the sad lover in the first aria (the softness of the voice is remarkable), but also the severeness of the character in the trio with Arturo and Enrichetta.
Nicolai Ghiaurov is a noble and impressive Giorgio Valton, characterized by easy phrasing and magnificent voice, but it is especially this voice that gives expression to the character and he do nothing to add something more. I think he is nonetheless one of the best Giorgio that have been recorded so far.
Richard Bonynge’s conduction is accurate and brilliant and is one of his best interpretations of Bellini’s music: I remember how he suggests a threatening atmosphere in the trio between Enrichetta, Arturo and Riccardo, for example.
I will end remembering that this recording contains not only vocal or interpretative surprises, but it also opens some traditional cuts (some bars in the short duet between Enrichetta and Arturo, for example) and presents the complete duet between Elvira and Arturo in the third act. At the point where Arturo says: «Deh perdona! Ella era misera prigioniera… abbandonata» it is added a short scene. I never find this scene anywhere else (perhaps it has never been recorded again), but it would be crazy not to include it in this recording, with its excellent singers. I would also add that on stage this scene would have slow down the theatrical rhythm and it was a good choice to record it in studio. I guess this is also the reason why it is virtually forgotten.