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Monday, 05 February 2018 12:09

Review: I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

There are fewer things in theatre more exciting the curtain going up on the first act of an opera. Often there’s no ceremony or pre-recorded note from management. The lights dim and the overture begins. How enchanting to take your first look at the sumptuous sets and costumes Lyric Opera has created for this production. Pilgrim-chic you might call it. Tradition and form make opera a unique theatrical experience. On a snowy Sunday afternoon, the curtain came up on Bellini’s ‘I Puritani’, signaling to its audience, get comfortable.

Eric Einhorn’s production of Bellini’s drama runs just under four hours with two intermissions. The first act is the longest at eighty minutes. ‘I Puritani’ concerns a Puritan hamlet in which a young princess Elvira (Albina Shagimuratova) chooses another suitor, Arturo, over the pre-arranged marriage to Riccardo (Anthony Clark Evans). Just before the wedding, Arturo obliges himself to save condemned Queen Enrichetta (Lauren Decker). While he’s smuggling her out of the country, word returns to Elvira that her fiancé has run off with another woman. She is devastated and the army pursues him.

Yeah, that’s the plot. Nearly four hours to convey that relatively simple story along with Bellini’s beautiful score. This is why opera is special, because for four hours, we really don’t care what the plot is. For centuries opera was performed without the super script translations, leaving the audience to presume based on summaries in their playbills. Projected translations are used sparingly in this production of ‘I Puritani’ – maybe because the plot is so uncomplicated, they’re not necessary. In any case, they’re certainly not missed and would likely be distracting. What should be paid attention to are these beautiful singers and the gorgeous orchestra.

A significant difference between musical theatre and opera is that the leads are not expected to be great actors. Voice is most important in these roles, especially in Bellini’s works. He believed that a beautiful voice is what stirs audience emotions. He’s not wrong. Though, Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova is a good actress. She’s not heard until the second scene, but her performance is easily the most accessible aspect of this production. Her heartbreak is palpable in voice and gesture regardless of language. Act II is worth the entire afternoon.

As always, the costumes and sets are overwhelmingly beautiful. Haunting imagery is captured by the large cast numbers and soaring melodies. ‘I Puritani’ may lose the attention of its audience during the lengthy solos, but will quickly recapture focus when the whole ensemble fills the stage. Just as exciting as the curtain going up, is the curtain coming down. Opera enthusiasts scream “brava” and beg for more curtain calls, a truly opera-specific tradition. In opera, the energy of the experience sustains the art itself.

Through February 28 at Lyric Opera of Chicago. 20 N Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600

 

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