Opera Profile: Bellini’s Final Masterpiece ‘I Puritani’

By David Salazar

“I Puritani” is Bellini’s final opera, and for some, his best.

The opera had its premiere on Jan. 24, 1835, seven months before the composer’s untimely death at the age of 33. The work is often criticized for its dramatic structure, though few complain about its musical genius, showcasing Bellini at his most refined and evolved melodically.

Short Plot Summary

The Puritans celebrate a victory over the Royalists as well as the announcement of Elvira’s wedding.

Riccardo laments losing out on Elvira’s hand, though it was previously promised to him. Elvira tells her uncle Giorgio that she is afraid of marriage, claiming that she never wants to marry. But Giorgio tells her that she is to wed Arturo, the love of her life. He reveals that he persuaded her father to let her marry her beloved.

Arturo arrives to declare his love for Elvira. A mysterious woman appears and Arturo seeks her out, finding out that she is Enrichetta, the widow of the executed king. Arturo vows to save her. Elvira arrives wearing her wedding veil and puts it over Enrichetta. Then she goes off to prepare for her wedding. Arturo seizes the moment to run off with Enrichetta, though not before confronting Riccardo.

Riccardo tells all of Arturo’s treason and Elvira goes mad with pain.

After seeing Elvira drowned in madness, Giorgio asks Riccardo to help him save Arturo for her sake. He accepts though he notes that should they meet in battle, he will kill Arturo.

Arturo returns to his beloved Elvira, hearing her sing a piece they would sing together in the woods. They reunite and declare enthusiastic love for one another. However, when soldiers arrive, she returns to her madness, afraid of losing her beloved. Arturo is sentenced to death, but saved at the final moment when it is declared that the Royalists are defeated and Oliver Cromwell has pardoned all the prisoners. Everyone rejoinces.

Famous Musical Numbers

This opera is replete with famous tunes, but perhaps the two most famous belong to the two leads. The tenor’s “A te o cara” is one of Bellini’s most glorious melodic moments and also showcases the endless ability to evolve melody, the aria turning into an ensemble by its end.

Meanwhile the soprano has the famed mad scene “Qui la voce,” another endless array of melodic invention that rivals, and in some moments, bests, that of the more famous mad scene from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.”

Other Articles About “I Puritani” on OperaWire:

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

Watch and Listen

Maria Callas was a major proponent of the opera and essentially restored it to the repert



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