I Puritani - no high F, but who cares?

Javier Camarena and Diana Damrau, photo @ Marty Sohl

Whoever knew that the serene I Puritani would be the opera to bring out the audience crazies? Last night at the Met's premiere of I Puritani there was this EXTREMELY vocal Diana Damrau fan who would scream "BRAAAAAAVVVVVVIIIIIIISSSSSSIIIIIIMMMMMMAAAAAA" and "THANK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUU" after every number. You could admire her enthusiasm except that sounded more like she was giving birth than anything else.

Then at the end of "Credeasi misera" some fanatical vocal purist (???) shouted "NO HIGH F" at Javier Camarena. The audience was shocked.

The two overly vocal audience members leant some comedy to an otherwise rather sleepy (if vocally solid) revival. Don't get me wrong -- there's reasons to see this revival, the number one being Javier Camarena, whose warm sweet timbre, glorious upper register and winning stage presence officially put him in the designated spot of The Great Arturo of His Time. This status isn't to be sniffed at -- this notoriously difficult part has struck fear in the hearts of many a tenor. Alfredo Kraus, Nicolai Gedda (RIP), and Luciano Pavarotti were previous bearers of this mantle.

No, Camarena didn't sing the high F in "Credeasi misera" but he took so many withdrawals from his NOHC (Notes Over High C) Bank Account that you wonder if he has a secret Swiss NOHC account with millions more notes stashed away. From the C-sharp in his entrance aria "A te o cara" to a blazing high D in "Vieni fra queste braccia" Camarena was unstintingly generous with the audience some of whom were probably counting the acuti and keeping tally on their program. But even if he had missed all those notes, he still would have been a wonderful Arturo simply because of his truly bel canto singing. He has the legato, the musicality, the style. Go see him. He's a star.

Diana Damrau as Elvira was vocally a bit hard-pressed, her acuti shrill and her style of singing does not allow for the kind of seamless legato that's necessary in numbers like "Qui la voce." The voice has lost a lot in color and flexibility. She has come full circle -- last night she approached high notes in the same brittle way she might attack the high F's in Queen of the Night (one of her early successes). Her acting was a bit hammy -- in the long second act scena I thought of what Lucille Ball might have done playing a mad scene and looked onstage and uh, it was a perfect match. She was fond of wrapping herself up in her wedding veil like a mummy. But one cannot fault her enthusiasm, her energy, and her obvious professionalism -- she just finished a run of Juliets (which was a much better fit for her vocally). She and Camarena had a warm chemistry onstage.

Luca Pisaroni and Diana Damrau, photo @ Marty Sohl
The two lower voiced men (for the life of me I can't ever recall their actual names -- I just remember the Nice Bass and the Mean Baritone) were solid if unexciting. Alexey Markov The Mean Baritone has a voice that's rather dry and not mellifluous enough to sound right in Bellini. Luca Pisaroni The Nice Bass looked very cute but it's one of those voices that's rather hollow sounding, without the body or plushness to give the character's numbers the requisite warmth. "Cinta di fiori" was disappointing. The usually barnstorming duet "Suoni la tromba" was routine and not the jolt of caffeine the audience needed. Virgnie Verrez was fine as Henrietta, The Most Boring Queen in Opera.

Conductor Maurizio Benini opened some cuts in the act one concertato and also let Damrau sing "Ah! sento o mio bell 'angeli" to conclude the opera but was almost comically lethargic, with no drive or impetus behind his conducting. I Puritani cannot have a conductor who seems like he just popped a xanax before entering the pit. It already has so many built-in Xanax moments. The Met orchestra which can be so glorious with right conductor sounded almost provincial last night with an embarrassing flub from the French horns. Maybe he'll pick up steam as the run goes on.

The production by Sandro Sequi at this point is a collection of pretty costumes for Elvira and picturesque sets and little else -- even the chorus seems to have given up any pretense of blocking. The multiple steps on the set did allow the vertically challenged singers to look taller while standing next to Luca Pisaroni, so there's that.

But don't just read me. Judge for yourself:


  1. Ivy I was there too and agree with your review. In addition to some of the rude audience the men that run the lights up in the family circle could be heard talking. Nothing worse than hearing that during the quieter moments of the opera. NO RESPECT. The memories of Sutherland, Pavarotti and Milnes from 1976 are TOO STRONG which made this revival a poor one. It's all about the VOICE and except for Mr Camarena the voices were non existent.As for Mr Benini(who tripped at his curtain call) he should have listened to the conducting of Richard Bonynge who had the bel canto sound. Nevertheless it was great to have so many previous cuts opened up for this run of performances. The amount of open seats was disheartening.

  2. There were many, many, many open seats near me. Not encouraging. The first act did not leave me enthusiastic about the rest of the evening, but remarkably, Diana Damrau seemed to improve significantly in he latter two acts. During the first she was just barely there. I assume she must have been recovering from illness; from the preview clips on he Met website, one would think Elvira had been cut from the piece. That said, she pulled it out in the 3rd act, especially in the duet with Arturo, who was fabulous the whole night. One crushing (if not unexpected) disappointment, however, was the omission of the first act trio between Arturo, Enrichetta, and... the other guy. I've only seen it on YouTube (with Juan Diego Flórez, and I think a few others) and it's a highlight of the entire work. It's a shame that it wasn't included- I can think of a singer who would be more capable of performing it than Javier.

    1. For the first act I was up in the balcony where entire rows were completely empty and I sort of dozed off at times.
      I moved down to the orchestra where there were lots of empty seats. I think the two long intermissions don't help.

  3. Hi Ivy,
    I haven't seen this and Camarena is a terrific tenor.That said,Pavarotti's Arturo in the live 1972 Phila. "Puritan" with Sills contains some of the greatest singing I have ever heard.Nobody could sing that part with such beauty of tone, technical skill and power as Pavarotti did that night. He was truly extraordinary!Have you heard theta?

    1. Yes I have. It's glorious. The warmth of Pavarotti's voice as well as the ring of his high notes and his legato are IMO unmatched.

  4. Hi Ivy,
    I haven't seen this and Camarena is a terrific tenor.That said,Pavarotti's Arturo in the live 1972 Phila. "Puritan" with Sills contains some of the greatest singing I have ever heard.Nobody could sing that part with such beauty of tone, technical skill and power as Pavarotti did that night. He was truly extraordinary!Have you heard the tape?

  5. PS
    As for the empty seats, which I've noticed at a number of operas I've seen,maybe they should set "Puritani"in Las Vegas or at least find a way of costuming the singers in jeans,tuxedos, leather jackets and SS uniforms.That should fill the house.

  6. Absolutely shameful to scream out "No high F", particularly because the Camarena's singing was spectacular and a wonderful, inspiring lesson in bel canto for all to hear. To the heckler: you are truly shameful, I'm embarrassed on behalf of the audience.


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