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In the post Callas-Sutherland-Sills era (after the brief reign of June Anderson), exponents of the role of Elvira (with its dazzling coloratura demands) have been few and far between. The brilliant Edita Gruberova and the gifted American lyric-coloratura Ruth Ann Swenson have attempted the role with varying degrees of success. The Russian soprano Olga Makarina is an Elvira out of another era. Before the vocal glory of Callas and Sutherland, sopranos with lighter timbres often sang bel canto roles. Lina Paglughi, Lily Pons, Alda Noni, and Roberta Peters gave stellar performances of Lucia di Lammermoor and other bel canto scores. Makarina's charming stage presence and light, silvery voice were often enthralling. Her 'Qui la voce' had glittering coloratura and precise vocal control. She brought real pathos to Elvira's mad scene -- the one moment when the problematical drama came alive. Her thrilling rendition of the final duet (with tenor Eric Cutler) brought the evening to an exciting conclusion. Makarina's often brilliant singing became the production's central focus. With credits that include New York's Metropolitan Opera (Rigoletto, Le Rossignol, Il Pirata) and St Petersburg's Kirov (Donna Anna in Don Giovanni under Valery Gergiev), Makarina is a major talent!

Olga Makarina (Elvira, centre) in 'I Puritani'. Photo © 2005 Steven Caras
Olga Makarina (Elvira, centre) in 'I Puritani'. Photo © 2005 Steven Caras

The tenor role of Arturo Talbot is one of the most difficult in the repertoire. Bellini's high lying vocal writing is merciless. (It should be remembered that in the composer's day, the pitch was lower -- thereby making sustained use of the upper register artistically feasible.) Giuseppe DeStefano came to vocal grief in his recorded attempt at the role. In the 1960s Nicolai Gedda and Alfredo Kraus were vocal paragons -- artists who sang Arturo and other Donizetti-Bellini roles with fearless assurance. In his prime years in the 1970s Luciano Pavarotti teamed up with Sutherland for some legendary performances of I Puritani. Early in their careers, the American tenors John Aler and Chris Merritt gave vocally brilliant, memorable performances of this demanding role. (The New York City Opera's 1981 production was a landmark event. Four singers at their vocal best -- Anderson, Merritt, Richard Fredericks, and Justino Diaz; idiomatically conducted by Theo Alcantara.) The young American tenor Eric Cutler -- the Palm Beach Arturo -- is a real vocal discovery! A graduate of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, Cutler has devoted his career mostly to Mozart tenor roles. He was clearly nervous and missed the high F in his opening aria 'A te, o cara' but sang with increasing confidence as the evening progressed. His elegant musicality, exciting high tones, and idiomatic squillo sound mark him as an artist to watch. In his final scene with Ms Makarina, Cutler sang with power, ease, and Italianate fervor. In a day of over hyped tenors, Cutler may be the genuine article -- a wonderfully endowed artist of artistic taste and conviction.

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Copyright © 3 February 2005 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA


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