Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Saint Cecilia: The Sixteen at Kings Place

There were eighteen rather than sixteen singers. And, though the concert was entitled Saint Cecilia the repertoire paid homage more emphatically to Mary, Mother of Jesus, and to the spirit of Christmas.

Liszt Petrarca Sonnets complete – Andrè Schuen, Daniel Heide

An ambitious new series focusing on the songs of Franz Liszt, starting with all three versions of the Tre Sonetti del Petrarca, (Petrarca Sonnets), S.270a, S.270b and S.161 with Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide for Avi-music.de.

Insights on Mahler Lieder, Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen

At the Wigmore Hall, Andrè Schuen and Daniel Heide in a recital of Schubert and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Rückert-Lieder. Schuen has most definitely arrived, at least among the long-term cognoscenti at the Wigmore Hall who appreciate the intelligence and sensitivity that marks true Lieder interpretation.

Ermelinda by San Francisco's Ars Minerva

It’s an opera by Vicentino composer Domenico Freschi that premiered in 1681 at the country home of the son of the doge of Venice. Villa Contarini is a couple of hours on horseback from Vicenza, and a few hours by gondola from Venice).

Wozzeck in Munich

It would be an extraordinary, even an unimaginable Wozzeck that failed to move, to chill one to the bone. This was certainly no such Wozzeck; Marie’s reading from the Bible, Wozzeck’s demise, the final scene with their son and the other children: all brought that particular Wozzeck combination of tears and horror.

Une soirée chez Berlioz – lyrical rarities, on Berlioz’s own guitar

Une soirée chez Berlioz – an evening with Berlioz, songs for voice, piano and guitar, with Stéphanie D’Oustrac, Thibaut Roussel (guitar), and Tanguy de Williencourt (piano).

Korngold's Die tote Stadt in Munich

I approached this evening as something of a sceptic regarding work and director. My sole prior encounter with Simon Stone’s work had not been, to put it mildly, a happy one. Nor do I count myself a subscriber or even affiliate to the Korngold fan club, considerable in number and still more considerable in fervency.

Exceptional song recital from Hurn Court Opera at Salisbury Arts Centre

Thanks to the enterprise and vision of Lynton Atkinson - Artistic Director of Dorset-based Hurn Court Opera - two promising young singers on the threshold of glittering careers gave an outstanding recital at Salisbury’s prestigious Art Centre.

Lohengrin in Munich

An exceptional Lohengrin, this. I had better explain. Yes, it was exceptional in the quality of much of the singing, especially the two principal female roles, yet also in luxury casting such as Martin Gantner as the King’s Herald.

Hansel and Gretel in San Francisco

This Grimm’s fairytale in its operatic version found its way onto the War Memorial stage in the guise of a new “family friendly” production first seen last holiday season at London’s Royal Opera House.

An hypnotic Death in Venice at the Royal Opera House

Spot-lit in the prevailing darkness, Gustav von Aschenbach frowns restively as he picks up an hour-glass from a desk strewn with literary paraphernalia, objects d’art, time-pieces and a pair of tall candles in silver holders - by the light of which, so Thomas Mann tells us in his novella Death in Venice, the elderly writer ‘would offer up to art, for two or three ardently conscientious morning hours, the strength he had garnered during sleep’.

A Baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi

A baroque Christmas from Harmonia Mundi, this year’s offering in their acclaimed Christmas series. Great value for money - four CDs of music so good that it shouldn’t be saved just for Christmas. The prize here, though is the Pastorale de Noël by Marc-Antoine Charpentier with Ensemble Correspondances, with Sébastien Daucé, highly acclaimed on its first release just a few years ago.

Philip Glass's Orphée at English National Opera

Jean Cocteau’s 1950 Orphée - and Philip Glass’s chamber opera based on the film - are so closely intertwined it should not be a surprise that this new production for English National Opera often seems unable to distinguish the two. There is never a shred of ambiguity that cinema and theatre are like mirrors, a recurring feature of this production; and nor is there much doubt that this is as opera noir it gets.

Rapt audience at Dutch National Opera’s riveting Walküre

“Don’t miss this final chance – ever! – to see Die Walküre”, urges the Dutch National Opera website.

Christmas at St George’s Windsor

Christmas at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, with the Choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, James Vivian, organist and conductor. New from Hyperion, this continues their series of previous recordings with this Choir. The College of St George, founded in 1348, is unusual in that it is a Royal Peculiar, a parish under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch, rather than the diocese.

Sarah Wegener sings Strauss and Jurowski’s shattering Mahler

A little under a month ago, I reflected on Vladimir Jurowski’s tempi in Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. That willingness to range between extremes, often within the same work, was a very striking feature of this second concert, which also fielded a Mahler symphony - this time the Fifth. But we also had a Wagner prelude and Strauss songs to leave some of us scratching our heads.

Manon Lescaut in San Francisco

Of the San Francisco Opera Manon Lescauts (in past seasons Leontyne Price, Mirella Freni, Karita Mattila among others, all in their full maturity) the latest is Armenian born Parisian finished soprano Lianna Haroutounian in her role debut. And Mme. Haroutounian is surely the finest of them all.

A lukewarm performance of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette from the LSO and Tilson Thomas

A double celebration was the occasion for a packed house at the Barbican: the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s birth, alongside Michael Tilson Thomas’s fifty-year association with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Patricia Racette (Sister Angelica) in Suor Angelica [Photo by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera]
11 Oct 2009

Il trittico in San Francisco

In the otherwise silent sixteen years between La fanciulla del west (1910) and Turandot (1926) Puccini had a flirtation with operetta, La rondine (1917) and with the quick and easy drama of the short story in his three one-acts, Il trittico (1918), composed as a one-evening cycle.

Giacomo Puccini: Il trittico

Click here for cast list of Il Trovatore

Above: Patricia Racette (Sister Angelica) in Suor Angelica

All photos by Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera

 

Both light-weight works remained on the fringe of the Puccini repertory for most of the twentieth century, though in recent years they have been exploited in opera’s attempt at repertory expansion.

In San Francisco La rondine reappeared in 2007 in a lackluster production made splendid by the magnetic Rondine of Angela Gheorghiu. Il trittico was in the 1923 and 1952 SFO seasons (though parts of it have appeared in many other years), and just now it has dared the War Memorial stage once again, and succeeded as one of its truer artistic ventures!

The by-now enormous vocal resources of SFO triumphed, led by Merola and Adler Fellow alumna Patricia Racette as all three heroines — Giorgetta, Suor Angelica, Lauretta, supported by fifteen other past and present Merolini and Adler Fellows, notably mezzo Catherine Cook as Frugola, Monitor and La Ciesca. And not the least of whom was conductor Patrick Summers, a most distinguished Merola alumnus. Three singers only, of the thirty two singers who performed the myriad of roles across the three operas, validated the company’s international pretensions, Italian baritone Paolo Gavanelli as Michele and Gianni Schicchi, Polish contralto Ewa Podles as the Princess, and Italian bass Andrea Silvestrelli as Il Talpa and Simone, thus delicately spicing the otherwise all American brew.

Verismo as an operatic term is applied to the Puccini oeuvre though verismo per se is much purer than any Puccini opera ever wanted to be. Puccini was far more entralled by horror theater, the infamous Grand Guignol, like the blood bath that concludes Madama Butterfly, her two-year-old son looking on, and particularly in the revelation of Luigi’s mutilated body in the triptych’s Il tabarro. Not to mention Suor Angelica’s on-stage suicide under the gaze of the Virgin Mary, and the Gianni Schicchi heirs’ horror that their arms be reduced to stumps.

Schi_LomRac.gifDavid Lomelí (Rinuccio) and Patricia Racette (Lauretta) in Gianni Schicchi

Paris’ Theatre du Grand Guignol, the world’s original horror theater (20 rue Chaptal), finally petered out in 1962, the public no longer titillated by the contemplation of the gruesome. But it was going strong during and after the first world war, and fashionable for the fashionable. Puccini was a man of his times, a true Italian with his finger on the pulse of style, and all style was Parisian just then. Voilà Il trittico.

Nowhere on earth do opera audiences seem partial to high style. Thus when West Virginia born stage director James Robinson conceived this fairly high concept production for New York City Opera in 2002 he was careful to imbue its original cutting edge style with adorable, witty images. The first was even a caricature, a super-endowed and sexually overripe female alone on the empty stage slinking alongside a mostly submerged hut. Puccini’s Seine flowed as bored time and there was little hint of a Parisian dockside, it could have been near a coal mine as well, but where was not the point as long as it was dark and low.

Robinson stripped la Frugola of her usual pathos, instead we saw a happy, giddy floozy with her homey fantasies. Luigi was a lanky American boy, not smart enough to keep his hands off the boss’s wife, Giorgetta, who was aching to be touched in her little girl, Butterfly voice, and strangely dismissive of her baby’s death. At last Michele blew-up in nearly buffo terms leaving Luigi dead, hanging from his arms like a Michelangelo Pietà.

Robinson rendered Suor Angelica’s seventeenth century convent as a twentieth century children’s hospital adorable in its sterile detail. Its diseased and maimed occupants were quietly eating lunch while its custodians chattered about trivial spiritual concerns. The maiden aunt arrived in supercilious Protestant outrage and the resulting suicide was somehow rendered by all this clutter into terms that were softly personal, and heart wrenchingly tender. The final, blurred vision of an Asian-American boy (Trouble, now seven years old?) was super witty, hardly maudlin at all.

Robinson made Buoso Donati’s home with a view a shiny white high rise hospital room, so shiny that its patterned black and white marble floor was perfectly reflected on the walls and ceiling, the heirs attired in oh-so impeccably fashionable black and white. Lauretta was a daddy’s valley girl who got finally everything she wanted, save a good view of Florence as set designer Alan Moyer’s Duomo dome ruthlessly blocked most of it. Nothing’s perfect.

And so the more delicate sensibilities of twenty-first century audiences were titillated by wit rather than horror. And greatly so by the superb individual performances of the entire cast. Patricia Racette, without doubt the world’s reigning Butterfly, was in magnificent voice (9/30). She applied the wiles of the complex Butterfly role to Puccini’s quickly drawn triptych heroines with contagious gusto. Though Il trittico had its world premiere at the Met in 1918 (with three different sopranos), the Met jumped the anniversary gun by introducing a new production by Jack O’Brien in 2004. Odds are that even the new, enlightened Met with its reprise next year (with la Racette) cannot one-up this low budget NYCO production as it was incarnated just now at SFO.

Notable among many fine performances was American tenor Brandon Jovanovich, already an SFO Pinkerton (2007), whose rendering of Luigi as a down-and-out itinerant worker willing enough to appease Giorgetta’s animal needs was down-right real. Mexican tenor David Lomelí, an Adler Fellow, brought solid voice, stolid presence and just about enough stature to fill the shoes of Lauretta’s fiance Rinuccio. Impressive indeed was the contralto voice and performance of Merola alumna Meredith Arwady as the Abbess and Zita.

And finally Paolo Gavanelli stepped off the stage onto the apron to have the last word, and beg applause for his vivid performances of two of opera’s most sympathetic villains, Michele and Schicchi, and for Puccini’s kitsch operatic novellas of heaven and hell, and purgatory too. There was a mighty roar, particularly for the responsive, hyper-sensitive conducting of Patrick Summers who got Puccini just right for this heady concoction.

Michael Milenski

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):