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Backstage glimpses with Boston Lyric Opera

I Puritani: Why we killed Arturo

May 12, 2014 4:33:00 PM
By BLO Staff

By Magda Romanska, Ph.D., BLO Dramaturg

In BLO’s version of I
Puritani,
a vengeful Riccardo kills Arturo during the last scene as the two
happy lovers, Elvira and Arturo, finally reconnect after many trials and
tribulations. Arturo dies in Elvira’s arms, and we can only anticipate that the
final blow of his death will ultimately unravel her fragile and already
strained psyche. The plot of I Puritani
meanders back and forth, with the lovers reconnecting four times, making the
climactic moment somewhat subdued by our implicit expectation of yet another
impediment to the course of their love. The happy ending brought by the
unexpected and convenient amnesty of all prisoners, including Arturo, is
announced by the sudden arrival of a missive.

The classical Aristotelian model of dramatic structure
eschewed such deus ex machina plot devices,
considering them to be the subterfuges of lesser dramatists who are unable to
provide us with a structurally satisfying and cathartic denouement. During the
Romantic era of I Puritani, however, the
Aristotelian model gave way to melodramatic plots with multiple climaxes,
cliffhangers, and reconciliations. In that way, Romantic plot models, whether
in opera or in melodrama, very much paralleled our modern soap-opera plot
devices (think of Friends’ Ross and
Rachel’s gloriously absurd stop-and-go courtship developing over the span of
ten years).

Whether with happy or tragic endings, Romanticism focused on
heightened emotions, weaving-in tales of love and redemption through the
intricate landscapes of the characters’ dramatically enhanced inner emotions. Throughout
the centuries, opera directors responded in various ways to I Puritani’s elaborate melodramatic plot
and deus ex machina happy ending.
Many, like BLO, chose to kill Arturo at the end, which, in light of everything
else that happens in the story, is as psychologically consistent as letting him
live. Can we really imagine Elvira and Arturo’s happy marriage?

The two most recent productions in which Riccardo kills Arturo
at the end were a 2003 production directed by John Dew that premiered at the
Vienna Staatsoper, and Francisco Negrin’s 2009 version of I Puritani directed for the Netherlands Opera. Negrin viewed the
libretto as "silly and not making much sense," and chose to frame the ending as
a figment of Elvira’s distressed imagination. At the end, we are left to wonder
whether the amnesty really happened or whether Elvira merely imagined it. In
John Dew’s version, Riccardo falls to his knees after killing Arturo, tragically
realizing what he has just done. Although his rival is dead now, Riccardo too
is a broken man: revenge has led him nowhere (as suggested in previous scenes).
For opera to remain a living, breathing genre of dramatic
art, the living, contemporary directors must experiment with it as much as
their counterparts have done in the past. If they wouldn’t try different
approaches and visions, they would deprive us of the most salient pleasure of
opera going experience: deconstructing the various delicious ins and outs of
their decisions.
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