Vancouver Opera

Bellini's I puritani
Libretto by Conte Carlo Peppoli

Dates 8 August 2006 at 19.30 Venue The Orpheum Theatre

Elvira Elizabeth Futral Lord Arturo Talbot Eric Cutler Sir Riccardo Forth Jeff Matsey Sir Giorgio Randall Jakobsh Lord Valton Alain Coulombe Enrichietta Julie Nasrallah Sir Bruno John Arsenault Conductor Steven White

Reviewer J H Stape

The Vancouver Festival's gala opening offered a glittering array of vocal talent for Vincenzo Bellini's I puritani (1835), brought back into the repertoire in the 1950s by Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland. In concert, the glorious melodies that define bel canto shine forth disencumbered by an amateur dramatist's wobbly and confused libretto, and there was no loss of dramatic intensity in this extraordinary, even magical, performance, whose gala cast delivered on all counts.

Elizabeth Futral, the Vancouver Opera's Lucia a few seasons back and a fine Marie in La Fille du régiment, was simply a sensation. Glorious sound, glittering high Cs, and dramatically vivid presence made the evening hers. Her famous aria "Qui la voce," sung with astonishing dramatic sense, was a ravishing moment in an evening of unstinting pleasure.

An heiress to the great names who have sung Elvira, Futral is a true diva, whose voice since she was last here has taken on an even richer, more thrillingly distinctive character. Her clarity of diction far outpaces the great Dame Joan in a role that she made her own, and her musicality and intensity are more pleasing than the histrionics and famous unevenness of La Callas. Shot through with intelligence, this performance was bel canto at its heady heights.

She was matched both in vocal and dramatic intensity by her Arturo, Eric Cutler, whose sweetness of voice and technical skills were on a par with her own. From his opening aria, with its famed and controversial high E, to the last note were marked by intelligent singing and fine control. In this day of rare tenors, his is a talent that one would want to see and hear more of.

Among the other principals, Randall Jakobsh was outstanding in the role of Giorgio -- dark voiced and dramatically convincing. Jeff Matsey as Riccardo had fine moments particularly at the opening, though some of his notes lacked full support. He recovered for a singularly thrilling duet with Jakobsh at the conclusion of the second act, and for the conclusion.

Even the minor roles were a case of gala casting: Alain Coulombe, familiar to Victoria and Vancouver, delivered a polished performance as Lord Valton, as did another fine singer on the local scene, Julie Nesrallah in the small but pivotal role of Enrichietta.

The other stars of the evening were the Vancouver Opera Orchestra and Chorus. They have never sounded better, the acoustics The Orpheum (not superb but better than that awful barn The Queen Elizabeth Theatre). Under Steven White, who gave the score a vigorous and impassioned reading, the orchestral playing was firm and nuanced, the brass section playing its heart out to great effect.

In a word, this was an extraordinarily effective evening, bringing magnificent music alive (and would Bellini had lived longer) in a performance of rare intensity and great musicality. Bravi tutti! -- and kudos to Vancouver Opera Director James Wright, who time and again brings fine singers and increasingly interesting repertoire to his adopted city. News that he has renewed his contract for ten years should have opera fans dancing in the street.

© 2006 J H Stape