Opera fans and bel canto aficionados in particular will find it's worth the trip to see the Baltimore Opera Company's premiere production of "I Puritani" ("The Puritans") at the Lyric Opera House, where talented cast members gave a compassionate performance Wednesday.

Vincenzo Bellini's 10th and final opera, set in 1650 during the English Civil War, is a love story. Elvira, daughter of a Puritan governor, is betrothed to Puritan officer Riccardo. But she loves Arturo, a Royalist. Her uncle, Sir Giorgio, intervenes, allowing her to marry Arturo. Amid wedding preparations, Arturo learns that Elvira's father is holding the king's widow, Enrichetta, prisoner. He helps the queen escape. The heartbroken Riccardo detains them but lets them go.

He alerts Elvira, who falls into madness because of what she interprets as an elopement. Arturo, sentenced to death for treason, risks his life to return to Elvira, who realizes her mistake. The war ends, Arturo is pardoned and the couple finally wed.

By keeping the cast's movements to a minimum during the singing, stage director Alessandra Panzavolta ensured that the voices, not the elegant sets and costumes, were the most prominent aspects of the production.

Making a confident company and role debut as Elvira, soprano Elizabeth Futral sang angelically with a clear tone. Her flexible range and technique molded easily into the part's coloratura. She performed powerful crescendos up high, but her sustained notes sounded best when she allowed them to shimmer, as she did during slow, lyrical arias. In his entrance as Arturo, Gregory Kunde displayed a sweet tenor voice and an impressive range that grew stronger as the performance progressed. His assured technique and endurance made for a triumphant closing act, in which he nailed some of the highest notes ever written for opera tenors.

Baritone Giovanni Meoni (Riccardo) wields the kind of fluid voice normally associated with bel canto tenors. His singing had uncommon evenness and sounded effortless throughout. He sang "Suoni la tromba" with conviction, blending with the dark, licorice tone of Russian bass Mikhail Svetlov (Giorgio).

Soprano Suzanne S. Chadwick (Enrichetta), bass Brendan Cooke (Lord Gualtiero) and tenor Marcus McConico (Bruno) also turned in fine performances.

"I Puritani" continues tonight and Sunday afternoon.

-- Grace Jean

Elizabeth Futral sang angelically in "I Puritani."