Prometheus Defeats Zeus
at Seattle Opera’s
By Siri Martin
I Puritani (The Puritans)
Music by Vincenzo Bellini
Libretto by Count Carlo Pepoli
Seattle Opera, May 2008
Conductor: Edoardo Mueller
Stage Director: Linda Brovsky
Director General: Speight Jenkins
“You, subtle-spirit, you
bitterly overbitter, you that sinned
against the immortals, giving honor to
the creatures of a day, you thief of fire:
the Father has commanded you to say
what marriage of his is this you brag about
that shall drive him from power—and declare it
in clear terms and no riddles. You, Prometheus,
do not cause me a double journey; these
(Pointing to the chains)
will prove to you that Zeus is not softhearted.”
“Your speech is pompous sounding, full of pride,
as fits the lackey of the Gods. You are young
and young your rule and you think that the tower
in which you live is free from sorrow: from it
have I not seen two tyrants thrown? the third,
who now is king, I shall yet live to see him
fall, of all three most suddenly, most dishonored.
Do you think I will crouch before your Gods,
—so new—and tremble? I am far from that.
Hasten away, back on the road you came.
You shall learn nothing that you ask of me.”
Vincenzo Bellini’s “I Puritani”, appears at first glance to be a seemingly simple romance, between the youth of two rivaling factions in England, but unfolds a much deeper philosophical and political fight between two opposing ideas of man and God. Written in 1835, Bellini takes his audience to an earlier place and time, and an earlier phase of the challenge to British imperialism. “I Puritani” is set in Plymouth, England during the English Civil War of the 1640s. The location, title, and opening scene, of devout prayers to God as soldiers ready themselves for battle on behalf of Oliver Cromwell’s ironic fight against the monarchy of King Charles I, foreshadows what will escalate and erupt into the “shot heard ‘round the world” over 100 years later. With the American Revolution, in 1776, the fight between empire and republic reached a new height, which has yet to be settled to this day. In “I Puritani” the profound questions of man and his nature are not simply divided between the two warring political factions of England, but become a dividing line within the Puritan ranks themselves.
Seattle’s I Puritani Premier
©Seattle Opera. Photo by Rozarii Lynch
“Elvira lets Enrichetta try on her veil”
Seattle Opera’s Director General Speight Jenkins waited 25 years to find a cast that would do this great bel canto opera justice. “One by one over the last few years I have assembled the eight artists for our two casts and we will now present this treat for all those who love the human voice.” Jenkins pulled together a cast and crew that created a powerful and transparent presentation of a 17th Century Europe exiting the bloody 30 Years War and arguing over a God that justifies the perpetual war of a vengeful imperial society and a God full of compassion and love for mankind.
As the opera begins, the young Elvira (Eglise Gutierrez, soprano) daughter of a Puritan supporter of Cromwell, Lord Walton (Joseph Rawley, bass-baritone), is greatly tormented by the prospect of marrying Riccardo (Morgan Smith, baritone), a Puritan soldier she is not in love with, instead of a young Cavalier and supporter of King Charles I. Elvira pleads to her second father and uncle, Giorgio (Denis Sedov, bass), to save her from this fate. However, Giorgio had already convinced his brother to allow Elvira to marry the man to whom she has given her heart. This leads to a joyful duet that introduced the Seattle audience to the rich and well paired voices of Cuban-American soprano Eglise Gutierrez and Russian-Israeli bass Denis Sedov.
It appears that Act 1 will end with the two political factions united. Yet, there is a turn of events following the proclamations of love between Elvira and Arturo, played by American tenor Bradley Williams. Lord Walton announces he must miss his daughter’s wedding due to an important and time sensitive political mission: he must accompany a political prisoner to London immediately. This royalist prisoner turns out to be the Queen of England! Arturo is given the means to save his queen, Enrichetta (Fenlon Lamb, mezzo-soprano), by a jubilant and oblivious Elvira who has Enrichetta try on her wedding veil, thus giving her the perfect disguise; and Riccardo, allows Arturo and Enrichetta to escape with the hope that Elvira will come to her senses and love one of her own faction. Yet, no one expects the ensuing outcome, Elvira completely loses her senses.
There are many great duets and arias in Act II, which show off the capabilities of Gutierrez, Sedov, and Smith. Yet, the performance that had it all, freedom of voice production, variety of coloration and a superb dramatic performance was Giorgio’s Act II Scene 1 “Cinta di fiori e col bel crin disciolto”.
|©Seattle Opera. Photo by Rozarii Lynch
“Giorgio” played by Denis Sedov
“Cinta di fiori . . .” is one about sweet paternal love, and Sedov expresses all the emotions of an uncle mourning the loss of his niece’s sensibility and youthful promise, as he describes Elvira’s struggle with losing her true love. Sedov not only gave a superb dramatic performance but his singing was masterful. His long legato lines were rich and full of emotion, and his quick staccato lines were seemingly effortlessly moved. By the end of Act II all seems hopeless for Elvira’s sanity and Arturo’s mortality. Riccardo has an order from Parliament for the execution of Arturo. Yet, Giorgio reminds the audience, even as he takes up arms with Riccardo (on behalf of Cromwell) that compassion must rule. He even tells Riccardo that he must save his enemy for the sake of Elvira’s life.
The opening of Act III has a storm raging as soldiers run to and from battle. It has been 3 months since the couple’s separation as Arturo returns into enemy territory to claim his young wife. The reunion of the betrothed pair takes the audience through a whole rainbow of emotions as Gutierrez and Williams increasingly grab the attention and hearts of the audience with duets of uncertainty, proclamations of absolute devotion and then Elvira’s doubt of Arturo’s constancy. Yet, as the whole Cromwell supporting household of Lord Walton surrounds the Cavalier he refuses to abandon Elvira.
This is where the great paradox comes to the fore: the pious Cromwellian liberators of England from the tyranny of Monarchic rule sing about a God that desires revenge and death. Even Riccardo, who fears Elvira’s sanity will be forever lost if Arturo is executed, sings of pity and compassion. As this conflict within the Puritan ranks seems to reach hopeless heights a messenger announces that Cromwell has triumphed and Arturo is set free; the God of love and compassion triumphs.
The Science of Music
Following the performance Speight Jenkins led a question/answer session that appears to be a common event after Seattle Opera performances. LYM organizer Jenny Burns asked the general director what his orchestra was tuned to and if he would consider switching to the scientific tuning of C=256 Hz. During the session, there was a fun back and forth about the disintegration of great professional singers due to the strain of shifting at a higher tuning. Jenkins argued that we have more proficient singers today, than ever before. We continued the dialogue following the Q&A session, elaborating the political fight that Verdi waged for this scientific tuning, for the sake of the artistic idea, which is lost with a raised pitch that doesn’t cohere to the natural tuning of human singing voices. All great classical composers since Bach wrote specifically around those shifts, and Verdi and Rossini supported legislation in Italy to standardize the lower tuning, known as the “Verdi pitch.”
Although Jenkins admitted after the public discussion that he was unfamiliar with the reference to C=256, since all modern tuning questions are based on a universally accepted tuning of A=440, we will continue the educational dialogue with all these singers, conductors and other musicians. C=256 refers to the number of vibrations per second at the note “C,” which corresponds to “A” having 427-432 cycles per second, rather than the currently “accepted standard” of 440, 450 or more, making the A much higher. Tuning at C=256 Hz allows the six species of human singing voices (soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, tenor, baritone, bass) to shift from register to register with the greatest ease and least strain, thus gaining the most free and resonant voice production. The tuning issue confronts modern audiences directly on the question of “taste” versus “science”, when they think they “prefer” the higher tuning.
Singing is a universal language, which all human beings could and should share, and therefore tuning is a question of the utmost importance in economics and human culture. Imagine if all human beings on earth could communicate with one another through music. How many Mozarts and Beethovens would be around to facilitate further developments in the science of music?
These are questions that were at the center of Classical Greek culture, the Florentine Renaissance, and with the intervention of Lyndon and Helga Zepp-LaRouche today. Are all children able to learn how to sing? Is singing a universal potential that each human child shares? What kind of culture would organize itself with the direct intention to nurture and develop that potential? It is time to reinvigorate the world’s music culture by rediscovering the knowable principles of Bach’s Well-Tempered system and the classical Florentine mode of bel canto singing. It may seem “impractical." However, a population with a developed capability of communicating and receiving profound ideas is the only means by which we can solve the economic and political crises the world faces today. Thus, like Prometheus, we must further mankind’s journey toward a true renaissance culture. It doesn’t take brawn to throw off the shackles of Zeus today, but a creative intervention that moves the minds and hearts of man.
Join us in the fight for human creativity and progress!