Admiration and Warmth

Bellini – I Puritani

Elvira – Maria Agresta
Arturo – Dmitri Korchak
Riccardo – Mariusz Kwiecień
Giorgio – Michele Petrusi
Bruno – Luca Lombardo
Enrichetta – Andreea Soare
Gualtiero – Wojtek Smilek

Choeur de l’Opéra national de Paris, Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris / Michele Mariotti.
Stage Director – Laurent Pelly

Opéra de Paris-Bastille, Paris. Saturday, November 30th, 2013.

What is bel canto without beautiful singing? It isn’t always the most dramatically gripping of operatic forms and this is perhaps the sensation that I left with this evening, beautifully sung yet missing in drama. This was actually my first live Puritani and Bellini is a composer that I haven’t really experienced much in the theatre. I always have a sense that music such as this needs an extra helping hand otherwise the awkward plots and occasionally awkward music can start to grate. Yet, when done well it can be one of the most spectacular and enjoyable evenings in the theatre.

I have heard great things of Maria Agresta and tonight they were fully realized. Hers is a medium-sized lyric soprano with an effortless trill, wonderful agility and an easy top. She also has an attractive white wine tone. Given her repertoire, I was expecting something along the lines of Caballé but the truth is that Agresta is a very individual artist with a full understanding of the style. Some beautiful diminuendi combined with some startling pianissimi showed an artist willing to take risks and put her own, individual stamp on the music. She has only been singing professionally since 2007 and she has already been booked to sing on some of the world’s leading stages. She is already a very good artist who has the potential to become a great one.

As any regular readers of this blog may know, Mariusz Kwiecień is a big favourite of mine. An announcement was made at the start of the evening on his behalf and it was clear that he was not on top form. Yet, his first aria demonstrated all that I enjoy in his singing – the endless breath control, the wonderful warmth of tone and a profound understanding of the style that cannot be taught, a singer either has or it or he doesn’t. And Kwiecień most certainly has it. I wish him a very swift recovery.

I hate to say that at first I found Michele Petrusi’s Giorgio a bit dull. But I think the blame actually lay on the conducting more than anything else. He had real warmth of tone and an easy legato and he blended nicely with Kwiecień in their big duet. It was nicely done. We have been spoilt recently for tenors in this repertoire and Dmitri Korchak definitely has an instrument of beauty and potential. I felt that he forced the tone a little – could very well be due to nerves – but he certainly does have the fundamentals of the style. He is without doubt an interesting artist.

I first came across Michele Mariotti at the Royal Opera House earlier this year in La Donna del Lago. He achieved playing of great beauty from the Opéra orchestra and he conducted a reading that was well-manicured, fluent and certainly matched in its beauty what was happening on stage. I admired it greatly but I can’t say I loved it. For me, this is music that has angular edges and the beauty on stage needs to be countered with a certain rhythmic precision and energy in the orchestral sound. There were tantalizing moments of what could have been in ‘suoni la tromba’ where the orchestra pushed the drama along nicely. He is also a very supportive accompanist to his singers. Of course, there are many who enjoyed this interpretation and so much of music appreciation is personal. I have to say that for me it was deeply impressive but just lacking in impetus and swing.

Laurent Pelly’s staging played the work relatively straight. That was perhaps the problem. There were some impressive stage pictures and it acted as a great framework for the vocal beauty taking place on the stage. At the same time there was a lot of standing and delivering and only Agresta and Kwiecień managed to pull me into their interpretations by sheer force of charisma and dramatic conviction. I’ve seen some great Pelly productions that I very much enjoyed, this wasn’t one of them.

Ultimately this was a very mixed evening. It introduced me to a major new talent, one who has the potential to be a major star. I also got to see flashes of brilliance from a favourite singer who demonstrated all the attributes that I appreciate in his singing. At the same time, I was not quite convinced that the performance as a whole managed to cover up the weaknesses of the work. In a way I’d like to see it again and I will certainly make an effort to catch the cinema relay of the production. It’s a show that is certainly worth seeing for Agresta and Kwiecień above all.

Photo: © Opéra National de Paris/Andrea Messana




  1. An nteresting review were it not for demeaning ” I Puritani” as a “weak work” (!) . Despite the silly plot, this is one of the most magnificently beautiful and important operas of the bel canto.
    I attended the premiere. Finally, a new and beautiful full and round soprano voice is emerging from Italy – Maria Agresta ! While her technique cannot match Mariella Devia, the beautiful warmth of her voice and her shining acuti make up for everything.
    Michele Pertusi is a geat Bel Canto singer with years of experience with this part and he did most definitely not disappoint.
    The weakest link in this performance was Mariusz Kwiecien, He is a favorite of the MET, paired often with the Netrebko woman and a mindless audience applauds anything he and she do.
    this review forgot to mention the tenor part – the most difficult and important of the opera. The Russian tenor Dmitry Korchak did it proud – with thrilling and shining acuti.
    This might not have been the best performance of this beautifl opera but a very, very good oner!!!
    The production was one I could live with, fortunately, it was not the Eurotrash I expected from Mr Pelly,

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment on my post. Much appreciated.

      I agree with what you say about the work but in this particular interpretation – for my taste – it lacked in drama. The reason for that is that the orchestral contribution was far too well-manicured for my taste. This is a completely personal opinion I know but I always feel that the orchestra needs to be propelling the drama forward while the singing contributes the beauty.

      Miss Agresta was a major discovery and she is set to become a major star, I’ll agree with you on that. Mr Petrusi sang beautifully but he didn’t draw me in to the drama in the way that other interpreters I have heard in audio only have done. As I said above, I don’t think this was his fault at all, but more of the production and conducting.

      I’m sorry but I didn’t quite warm to Mr Korchak as much as you did. I found him quite rigid and he forced the tone far too much. If only he relaxed and concentrated on developing a sense of line he would be very impressive. Perhaps it was nerves.

      Of Mr Kwiecien I will gladly admit that I am a fan. I find his singing has great warmth and a wonderful sense of line. On Saturday he was announced as being unwell and while it was clear that the voice wasn’t in its best form the warm tone and implicit understanding of the beauty of the line were more than present.

      Mariotti achieved some ravishing playing from the orchestra and had a real sense of line but personally I wanted more drama and propulsion. That’s why I said that I admired it greatly because what he achieved was outstanding; it just wasn’t to my personal taste.

      Thanks so much again for taking the time to read and commenting. I really appreciated reading your thoughts.

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