One can almost forget that Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini's 1834 "I Puritani," which Knoxville Opera is presenting at the Tennessee Theatre this Rossini Festival weekend, is a stodgy set piece, or that tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan, as cavalier and Stuart loyalist Arturo, sang all of Act I as though he were in a French opera, because Rachel Gilmore's Elvira was nothing short of magnificent.
She got solid support from Nelson Martinez, as Riccardo, whose opera-opening aria was also a genuine pleasure to hear, as was Daniel Mobbs, who sang the role of Giorgio, Elvira's uncle, a Puritan colonel and parliamentarian who believed that the people, not the Stuart King Charles I, should rule England.
It's a political point that lurks in the background and isn't any more clear than whatever that stone block one could see outside the castle window was supposed to be.
If it was intended to be the Tower of London, where Charles lost his head and where his widow, Henrietta, would soon find herself, the set designer had never seen the place.
As the story is set, Elvira is in love with Arturo and their wedding is all set to take place when Arturo spots Henrietta - well sung by Lorraine De Simone - who is resigned to her fate.
But Arturo has other ideas and tries to disguise Henrietta under Elvira's wedding veil and smuggle her to safety.
Elvira is despondent over the disappearance of Arturo, but even in her deranged ravings, Gilmore's singing is absolutely glorious.
Riccardo and Giorgio are caught in the middle.
They can't bear to see Elvira in this state, but they can't let Arturo get away with what he is up to or the pain he has caused Elvira.
Martinez and Mobbs sing some genuinely enjoyable duets as they work out their dilemma.
When Arturo is sentenced to death, Giorgio urges Riccardo to save his life.
But despite the danger he is in, Arturo returns to Elvira, and Manucharyan sings as though he now knows this is an Italian opera, despite East Tennessee's high maple pollen count.
Then, just as Riccardo declares Arturo's death sentence, Elvira comes back to her senses and the Stuart forces are defeated almost simultaneously.
Arturo and Elvira can be together, at last.
Harold Duckett is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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