On This Day: A Look At The Metropolitan Opera’s 8 Elviras in ‘I Puritani’

By Francisco Salazar

On Jan. 24, 1835 Bellini premiered his final opera, “Puitani.” Despite being beloved for its  beautiful melodies and incredible coloratura challenges, the opera is also known for its ludicrous story line. This season the Metropolitan Opera is presenting the work with an all star cast and a new diva. The Met has always used the opera as a showcase for a leading artists, a list that is outstanding. In celebration of the work’s premiere and its return to the Metropolitan Opera, OperaWire takes a look at the Divas who have gone mad with Bellini’s music and ended up happy at the end of the opera.

Marcella Sembrich 

Perhaps recognized as one of the leading Divas of her time, Sembrich sang the Metropolitan Opera’s first “I Purtiani” in 1883. However instead of a whole run of the opera, the opera was only presented once in the whole season. Sembrich never sang it again with the company.

Maria Barrientos

Spanish soprano Barrientos brought the opera back in 1918 as a showcase for her coloratura soprano. Known to Met audiences for having performed Bellini’s “La Sonnambula” and Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” this was a perfect way to get the opera back into the repertoire. However, while Barrientos garnered acclaim after the six performances in 1918, the opera disappeared from the repertoire.

Joan Sutherland

Sutherland dominated the Bel Canto repertoire for decades while she sang at the Metropolitan Opera and she was also the type of soprano who could demand an opera. As a result the Metropolitan Opera created a new production directed by Sandro Sequi, which still remains at the Met to this day. On the Feb. 25, 1976 Sutherland was joined by Luciano Pavarotti, James Morris and Sherrill Milnes in one of the most electrifying nights at the Met. Not only did Sutherland show off her vocal fireworks and her splendid lyrical line but Pavarotti pulled off the infamous High F that Bellini wrote in the score.  The two also brought an indisputable chemistry that made their performances so popular at the time. Luckily the Metropolitan Opera was able to record one of the performances and it can be heard on its Met on Demand channel.

While the opera received a lot of acclaim, it did not return until 1986 when Sutherland revived it. The opera was her second to last with the Metropolitan Opera.

Edita Gruberova

With Sutherland retiring, Gruberova was brought to the Metropolitan Opera in 1991. Some will call her Sutherland’s successor while others will call her the Queen of Bel Canto. Whatever it is, Gruberova dominated the role of Elvira in “I Puritani for years and the Met’s decision to bring her in one of her rare New York appearances was genius. While she was stepping into a production created by Sutherland and was evidently going to get compared, the Diva quickly dissipated those thoughts when she walked on stage and created a girlish character through her voice. While some said her acting was unimaginative, her voice projected the happiness in the character as well as the haunting qualities of Elvira’s madness.

Ruth Ann Swenson 

The American soprano was one of the big draws at the Met during her best years and in 1997, she revived a production that had already been sung by two of the world’s greatest divas. While she was not particularly recognized as a great actress, her voice had numerous vocal colors that varied and allow her to express a wide range of emotions. Additionally, she had impeccable coloratura and her high noted gleamed. She was joined by an all star that included Thomas Hampson, Stuart Neill and Alastair Miles.

Anna Netrebko 

After an absence of ten years Anna Netrebko thrilled the Met Opera audiences with one of her most audacious performances. Making her role debut at the house, Netrebko turned heads with her energetic acting and during the second part of the mad scene, she dangled her head and arms over the edge of the orchestra pitch while singing tough coloratura passages. Dramatically the performance was perfection and while some criticized her tendency to go flat with imprecise coloratura, this was Netrebko’s show and one that was luckily preserved on DVD.

Olga Peretyatko

One of today’s rising stars, Peretyatko stepped into the production for Metropolitan Opera debut in 2014. It was her first staged production of the opera and the soprano was given an all star cast that included Lawrence Brownlee, Maurisz Kwiecien and Michele Pertusi. Her performance was met with rave reviews and critics stated, “Vocally Peretyatko was a gem and her voice is beautifully suited to sing this role.”

Diana Damrau

This season Diana Damrau steps into Elvira after having received acclaim for her performances in Madrid and Amsterdam. Damrau is known for her energetic acting and her vocal flexibility in the Bel Canto repertoire. With Javier Camarena, Luca Pisaroni and Alexey Markov, this is surely one of the performances not to be missed at the Metropolitan Opera.


On This DaySpecial Features