I Puritani di Carlo Pepoli e Vincenzo Bellini. Il libretto e il dramma musicale

Fabrizio Della Seta

The libretto of I Puritani has often been criticised for the coarseness of its poetic diction. However, analysis based on new, updated criteria shows that it has various aspects of historical and literary interest and contributes decisively to the musical and dramatic success of the opera. Carlo Pepoli introduces references to his own condition as a political exile, and in a few passages refers in various ways to his earlier poetic production. The ‘canzone del trovatore’ draws on an Anacreontic published in a collection of poems in 1833. In the scene of Elvira’s madness, Bellini reuses music he had composed for one of Pepoli’s sonnets, reproducing its relationship between vocal melody, treated with great metric freedom, and accompaniment. For Giorgio’s report at the beginning of the second act, Pepoli used the form of the Saphic ode, unknown in libretto-writing at the time. Bellini had previously set one of Pepoli’s Saphic odes to music, music that has, however, not survived: it is likely that he had adapted the same melody to the opera’s text, with highly original rhythmic and expressive results. The dramatic structure of the opera is entirely consistent, with the sentimental/pathetic aspect constantly put into contrast with the military/religious one. Bellini adopted an aesthetic similar to that of French romantic drama, where the interest deriving from the theatrical situation prevails over the search for adherence between words and music.