Vincenzo Bellini’s 1835 opera I Puritani will be featured work in the 2011 Rossini Festival. While his name may not be a household word among casual classical music buffs, his place (along with Rossini and Donizetti) in history is secured as a premiere composer in the bel canto style of early 19th century Italy. Casta Diva, an aria from his opera Norma, is a staple on music history listening lists in music schools worldwide. (And no, that opera is NOT about Marilyn Monroe). Puritani is, sadly, Bellini’s last opera; a love story set during the English Civil War. Think Lucia di Lammermoor with a happy ending. (Who better than the Italians to set English history to opera)?
The third act tenor aria Credeasi Misera is a workout in which the tenor sings a high F, if he feels he can reach it. It’s a high note for an alto, yet here is a tenor boldly going where very few men have gone before. It’s one of those moments that warrant a quick pit prayer. The soprano lead also hits a high “F,” and several high “E-flats.” I can’t help but feel shivers up and down my spine when a soprano hits a high note and holds it for a superhuman amount of time. Time is suspended while the audience stares wide-eyed at the stage. It gives me the same thrill as watching a gymnast’s difficult balance beam routine, a Kobe Bryant 360 slam dunk or a surfer’s best ride of the day on the pipeline. For as well as requiring musical, dramatic and linguistic skill, opera singing is an athletic activity that brooks little margin for error. Pacing and stamina – and luck– are just as necessary here as on the basketball court or football field. The ability to make oneself heard above the pit orchestra is a skill that is years in the making– as is, frankly, the ability to play in a pit orchestra without drowning out the singers.
Here are some pictures of festivities at the Rossini Festival, compliments of the festival’s Facebook page.
This is a painting of the two leads in Puritani, Rachele Gilmore and Yeghishe Manucharyan, donated by artist Dale Moore.
Here is Mr. Rossini drooling over the dessert counter at Gondolier at Cedar Bluff.