There is nothing else in opera quite like “Il Trittico” (or The Triptych) – Puccini’s sequence of three one-act operas.
Too bad that it is so seldom performed.
This has nothing to do with the score, which contains some of Puccini’s most ravishing music, but the difficulty in staging it, which requires three different casts, in three different settings, in three different genres – tragedy, melodrama, and comedy – and a conductor who can hold these proceedings together.
Even at the Metropolitan Opera, where it premiered, it did not have a new production for more for than 30 years, until the Levine/O’Brien production of 2007. That production was revelatory to those lucky enough to see it, for it demonstrated that Puccini had not just written an arresting experiment but a masterpiece that holds a mirror to life.
The same can be said of Opera Carolina’s production, which was a bold move for a regional company, but which repaid the gamble with dividends. Opening night on Saturday was an elegant, rather traditional account of the work, mercifully free of the absurdities which disfigure so many opera productions. What kept it from being stodgy was the sense that it was alive in every detail. Under the baton of Opera Carolina director James Meena, the orchestra conveyed the dark allure of “Il Tabarro,” the sweetness of “Suor Angelica” and the wit of “Gianni Schicchi.” The orchestra brought out all the internal voicings in the strings and gave a delicious piquancy to the winds – especially in Suor Angelica.
Among the singers, the pride of place goes to Jill Gardner, who sang the role of Georgette in “Il Tabarro” and the name role in “Suor Angelica.” Gardner was an impressive Tosca in Opera Carolina’s production in 2012, but here she has surpassed herself. There doesn’t seem to be anything standing between her and Puccini’s heroines – her identification with both parts seemed complete. Her voice also has become fresher, almost seamless, as if to float an extended high note is as natural as daylight. Furthermore, she moves like an actress, not an opera singer.
Chen-Ye Yuan is also an actor as well as a singer. His Michele in “Il Tabarro” was actually frightening; he brought a cobra-like menace to the part. He was as effective in the comedic title role of Gianni Schicchi, which is as different as night and day.
The Luigi of Dongwon Shin was both manly and vulnerable, and his voice became a thing of beauty as he warmed to the part.
Melinda Whittington sang Lauretta’s aria “O mio babbino caro” – the big hit in “Il Trittico” – with charm and finesse.
The veteran singer Susan Nicely, who played the Principessa in “Suor Angelica,” Zita in “Gianni Schicchi” and the rag-picker Frugola, made a character-like contribution to each of these roles. She was the only singer to appear in all three operas. Even with the doubling – or in Nicely’s case, the tripling – of parts, there’s a multitude of performers in ll Trittico. All could be cited for their contributions.
What was wondrous was how well they worked as ensembles, thanks to the direction of Jay Lesenger. This is nearly the only performance of “Gianni Schicchi” that I’ve seen that didn’t degenerate into slapstick. The costuming and lighting design was atmospheric and apt. If you don’t like opera, this may change your mind. If you do love opera, then you owe it to yourself to see it.
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