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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Opera Review: Farce, In Any Language

L'heure Espagnole and Gianni Schicchi at Juilliard
by Paul Pelkonen
Costume design for Don Iñigo Gomez in  L'heure Espagnole.
Design and drawing by Vita Tyzkun  © 2011 The Juilliard School.
On Wednesday night, the Juilliard Opera finished their strong season with an unusual pairing of one-act comedies by Ravel and Puccini. Juilliard alumna Keri-Lynn Wilson conducted both operas in razor-sharp performances, expertly played and timed.

Time is at the heart of Ravel's L'heure Espagnole ("The Spanish Hour.") This is the story of an unfaithful clockmaker's wife (Cecilia Hall) who juggles three suitors while her husband is out setting the city clocks each week. This is pure French farce, with two of the would-be lovers hiding themselves in large clocks, while the studly young muleteer (Andreas Andriotis) carries them up and down the stairs.

Ms. Hall shone as Concepción, the young wife who is considering the poet Gonzalve (Daniel T. Curran) and the banker Don Iñigo Gomez (Alexander Hajek) who finds himself locked in his clock. The opera was lightly played, with crisp ensemble singing and a tight account of Ravel's intricate score.

This fine cast switched places for Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, with Mr. Hajek taking the title role. He made a brash, memorable Schicchi, with good comic acting and a commanding presence. He made Schicchi's ode to Florence (where he warns the gathered relatives of the perils of their scheme to rewrite the will of the deceased Buoso Donati) the emotional heart of the piece, displaying a fine lyric baritone laced with poisonous wit. And the idea of having Schicchi cue the light changes and set the scene? Perfect.

The Korean soprano Jung van Noon, a student of the great Renata Scotto, made a stellar impression as Lauretta. Her "O mio babbino caro" was sung with such melting beauty that half the audience (not knowing where the piece ended) applauded early. She made the prospect of throwing herself into the Arno River a realistic one, arching into the high phrases and pouring out the heartfelt emotion that is required for convincing Puccini.

Schicchi and daughter were surrounded by a memorable group of players. Daniel T. Curran was Rinuccio, Lauretta's suitor and the one good egg in the rotten Donati basket. Timothy Beenken and Carla Jablonski were strong as Simone and La Cieca, the oldest members of the family with their sights set on the biggest shares of the estate. The other members of he company gave good comic performances, including a brief, hilarious cameo by character tenor Said Pressley as the hapless Doctor.

Andreas Aroditis returned as the notary Amantio, a shady figure in leather and aviators. As appropriate for this modern-dress program, he was flanked by two straight-outta-Brooklyn witnesses: Pinnelino "the cobbler"(Drew Santini) and Guccio "The Dyer" (Philip Stoddard. This comic trio upped the level of humor and intensity. As this comic confection whirled to a close, the audience was cheerfully prepared to forgive the hell-bound Gianni Schicchi for his schemes. And with singing like this, why not?
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.