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The principal baritone, Riccardo (Luca Grassi), is a puritan who is in love with Elvira, and he spends most of the opera glowering and simmering, something Grassi did magnificently. Grassi has an attractive, rather grainy voice which lent itself well to Riccardo's character. He had a good command of the line of Bellini's music though his fioriture were apt to be a little smudged.

One of the curiosities of the opera is the presence of two basses. One, Elvira's father (Richard Wiegold) has little to do and disappears after the interval. It is her uncle Giorgio (Francesco Palmieri) who has the larger part. Palmieri possesses an impressive, dark voice which brought great character to his music. His singing of Bellini's lines was not always ideally smooth, but he was very impressive in his martial duet with Riccardo. And, of course, it was lovely to hear Italian opera sung by Italians.

But any performance of I Puritani depends on the singers playing Elvira and Arturo. Both are parts which require great virtuosity from the singers, and Barry Banks and Judith Howarth encompassed their parts with ease. Neither is a frequent visitor to the London stage and so it was a pleasure to be able to hear them, on top form, in this thrilling music.

Whilst Elvira's music, with her mad scene, is more obviously virtuosic, Arturo's part can be somewhat problematic for a modern tenor. Arturo was written for a tenor who used his falsetto register to go up to F (at the top of the treble stave), highlighting the contrast between registers rather than disguising it, as is usually the case nowadays. Barry Banks is obviously at home in this music and, whilst he did not sing the top F, he threw in some impressive high notes. More importantly he convincingly used the music to create Arturo as a noble but impulsive character. Banks also seemed to be very much enjoying himself.

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Copyright © 13 June 2006 Robert Hugill, London UK


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