Opera Carolina demonstrates a bit of daring this week with “Il Trittico,” Giacomo Puccini’s unconventional triptych of one-act operas.
Not often performed collectively on the U.S. stage and never seen in Charlotte, the series was written in 1918 by Puccini as a stylistic challenge to himself after his study of operatic composers of the day such as Debussy, Strauss and Stravinsky. With “Il Trittico,” Puccini captured various moods and emotional energy and brought them to the stage in three distinctive forms.
Opera Carolina continues this season’s Architects of Love theme.
• “Il Tabarro” explores the lustful love between Georgette and the handsome young Luigi, the lost love between Georgette and her older husband Michel, and the lost love of Michel and Georgette for their infant son, who died one year earlier.
• “Suor Angelica” deals with several aspects of love – religious love and fervor and most importantly, the love of Sister Angelica for her illegitimate child, whose birth disgraced her noble family.
• “Gianni Schicchi” deals with the young lovers Rinuccio and Lauretta, whose future relies on the cleverness of Lauretta’s father, Gianni Schicchi.
While Puccini’s intent was to have the triptych performed together, modern companies often separate the three and pair them with other operas, said James Meena, Opera Carolina general director.
“Each opera is so distinct, not relying on the others for their story line, musical personality, or dramatic impact, that it is easy for conductors and directors to decide, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to pair “Suor Angelica” with something else?’ ” said Meena. “And in an age when artistic decisions are driven by box office demands it is tempting to take the popular ‘Pagliacci’ and have a shotgun wedding with ‘Il Tabarro.’ ”
Meena stressed that “Il Trittico’s” strength is found in its diversity.
“The distinctness of Puccini’s creativity in ‘Il Trittico,’ while being an incentive to separate the triplets, is also its strength,” he said. “Puccini … takes the audience on three journeys to three distinct ends, as opposed to say ‘Turandot’ which, over its three acts, takes us on a single journey.”
Soprano Jill Gardner of Kernersville takes on two lead roles in the trilogy. She first plays the unfaithful wife Georgette in “Il Tabarro,” and then transforms herself into the repentant nun, Suor Angelica. Gardner made her Opera Carolina debut in the title role of last season’s “Tosca” and performed at last fall’s Arts, Poetry & Music ensemble at the Knight Theater.
“In one evening the audience will get to experience a murder, a miracle and one of the finest comedies ever set to the operatic stage,” Gardner said.
Gardner said she is pleased to have spent much of her career performing in nearly all of the composer’s best-known operas.
“Puccini’s music has certainly been my bread and butter and my voice very much lends itself to the Italianate style,” said Gardner, 44, who noted that familiarity with a composer allows her to more intimately understand characters and roles.
While the roles of Georgette in “Il Tabarro” and Suor Angelica are on the surface different, Gardener finds humility a common bond between the two characters. Each also has a secret to overcome and each has a sense of fragility and vulnerability that makes it compelling.
Audience members rising to the challenge of following three story lines and three different sets of characters should be rewarded. With “Il Trittico,” experiencing a well-known composer’s less often performed work may lead to Charlotte opera-goers’ discovery of a new favorite.
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