Vincenzo Bellini’s opera «I Puritani» (The Puritans) is best known for having one of the most recognizable scenes of madness in the history of opera. Francisco Negrin, the Spanish director of the National Opera production of «I Puritani,» which will open at the Athens Concert Hall on Friday, disagrees: «I am desperately trying to find the madness in that particular scene, to no avail. I think that Elvira’s words and verses might even make her the only sane person in this opera. All the other characters are mixed up in political intrigue and the endless war and only call her crazy in order to put her down. In reality, Elvira, the leading character, sings about love and not war.» The director seems to be wondering where the madness is in all of that – and he is right. The story of a forbidden love affair between Elvira and Arturo is the last work Bellini wrote before his death. The opera is set in 17th-century Plymouth, UK, in the midst of the English Civil War. Negrin didn’t give the opera a contemporary setting, but the sets and the atmosphere purposely use elements of the abstract. «The characters have been living through a war that has gone on for many years. Their sense of judgement has changed, since they are blindly following a principle without, in reality, understanding why they believe in it. That is where Esmeralda Devlin’s sets fit in perfectly, because they use features from the Braille alphabet and reading system for the blind.» Negrin has great respect for Devlin, whom he has worked with on many occasions and whom he describes as «an experienced professional with a lot of knowledge.» The acclaimed British set designer’s career not only includes operas and classic works, but also pop collaborations: Devlin has worked with Kanye West as well as legendary boy-band Take That, whose last tours used sets bearing Devlin’s signature. Branching out «I Puritani» is a joint production along with the De Nederlandse Opera and the Grand Theatre de Geneve. This is the National Opera’s second joint production, following Strauss’s «Ariadne auf Naxos,» which was staged in Genova in collaboration with the Oviedo and Genova opera houses and which will be presented here next year. «I Puritani» has already had a run in Amsterdam and is scheduled to be staged in Geneva after its Athens stint. It is yet another National Opera effort to branch out into Europe and enrich its experience, collaborations and contacts. The orchestra will be conducted by Andriy Yurkevych, with Bryan Hymel and Eglise Gutierrez in the leading roles of Arturo and Elvira, respectively. «I Puritani» will be staged on Friday and Sunday, April 28 and 30 at the Athens Concert Hall, 1 Kokkali & Vas. Sofias, tel 210.728.2333.