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Theatre / I Puritani

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Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti as the two lovers at the Met Opera in 1976.

I puritani ("The Puritans") is a bel canto opera by Vincenzo Bellini, set to a libretto by Carlo Pepoli. Based on Têtes Rondes et Cavalieres, a historical play by Jacques-François Ancelot and Joseph Xavier Saintine, it was Bellini's last work before his death in September 1835.

Set during the English Civil War around 1650, it is the story of the love between the emotionally-fragile Elvira Valton, a Puritan woman, and the heroic Lord Arturo Talbo, a Royalist. While Elvira was initially promised to Sir Riccardo Forth, her good-hearted uncle Sir Giorgio Valton convinced her father, Lord Gualtiero Valton, to let her marry Arturo, her true love. However, at the celebration of their engagement, Valton assigns Arturo with escorting Enrichietta, the widow of the executed Charles I, to London. Using Elvira's veil to disguise the queen, Arturo and Enrichietta escape.


However, when Arturo and the Queen escape, Elvira starts believing she's been abandoned and goes mad. For three months, Elvira drifts in and out of madness, especially after Riccardo announces that Arturo was sentenced to be executed. Giorgio pleads with Riccardo to help save Arturo's life, to which Riccardo agrees, having been moved profoundly.

Three months later, Arturo returns to Elvira and explains everything to her. But then, the troops return and announce that Arturo is to be executed. This shocks Elvira out of her madness, and she and Arturo plead for mercy. But just as everything looks bleak for the lovers, a diplomat comes and announces that Oliver Cromwell has pardoned all Royalist prisoners. Arturo is released, and everyone lives happily ever after.

After its 1835 premiere at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris, it was performed every year from 1836 to 1845 in different cities. For a long time, this opera was rarely performed in America until 1955, with Maria Callas as Elvira and Giuseppe Di Stefano as Arturo.


It's considered one of the best works in the bel canto repertoire, and the roles of Elvira and Arturo are among the most demanding roles in opera, since it's the singing that can either make or break this opera. It's also one of the few operas with a happy ending.

This Work Provides Examples Of:

  • Arranged Marriage: At first, Elvira and Riccardo. But then it's changed to Elvira and Arturo.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Giorgio has shades of this towards Elvira.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor Elvira thinks Arturo has betrayed her when he escapes with the Queen, and ends up going mad for three months. Fortunately, she gets better when Arturo returns to her.
  • Cool Uncle: Giorgio, without a doubt. He even persuaded Elvira's father to let her marry the man she loves.
  • Driven to Madness: Elvira has a mad scene that lasts for all three acts.
  • English Civil War: The war is used as a backdrop for the opera's story.
  • Everybody Cries: Act 2 opens up with the chorus lamenting over Elvira's broken state of mind.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Averted for the most part. Riccardo, a baritone role, is not evil, but he was a bit prone to jealousy. Averted completely with Giorgio and Lord Gualtiero Valton, two bass roles, and Enrichietta, a mezzo-soprano.
  • Excuse Plot: The plot is rather flimsy, and it just serves as a backdrop to show off the singers' vocal abilities.
  • Glass-Shattering Sound: Not unpleasant sounds, by all means, but the role of Arturo requires the tenor to be able to sing not just a D-flat, but also a high F, which is nearly impossible to do so. Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti and Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda were known for their ability to sing the high F on recordings of the opera from the 1970s.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: The Met Opera's traditional production has some lovely dresses for the ladies, especially for Elvira.
  • Hallucinations: Elvira hallucinates extensively during her mad scene.
  • The Ingenue: As per bel canto, Elvira has all the markings: emotionally-fragile, innocent, in love, and sung by a coloratura soprano.
  • Love Triangle: Initially, there is one between Arturo and Riccardo for Elvira. But it's quickly resolved.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Arturo is mistaken for betraying Elvira, when he's actually helping the Queen escape to London.
  • The Ophelia: Elvira is definitely this for a good part of the opera.
  • Sanity Slippage: Elvira descends into madness at the end of Act 1, and then she remains in a state of madness through Act 2 until the end of Act 3.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Elvira and Arturo, but their love story has a happy ending.
  • Tenor Boy: Arturo.

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