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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 © 2018 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Opera Review: Three on a Match

Il Trittico at the Metropolitan Opera.
by Paul Pelkonen
Barge-music: Juan Pons in Il Tabarro, Part I of Il Trittico.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera.
Long before Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez brought Grindhouse to your local movie theater, Giacomo Puccini conceived the idea of three disparate operas, performed together in the course of one evening. The three operas have had mixed fortunes since their 1918 premiere. They have been performed together, seperately, and paired off with works by other composers (Suor Angelica has been paired with Salome!). With this spiffy new Met production by Broadway director Jack O'Brien, this new Trittico scores three solid goals over the course of a long evening.

Il Tabarro is Puccini at his rawest: a shocking murder-opera set aboard a Parisian barge. As the cuckolded husband turned kiiler, baritone Juan Pons was sure and steady, a mix of raging passions and icy calculation. The performance completed Pons' own triptych for the 2006-2007 season, following his earlie, magnificent runs in Rigoletto and Andrea Chenier.

Salvatore Licitra sang well and choked magnificently as Luigi--not a bad thing for a character who gets graphically strangled to death. Trapped between these two strong male leads, soprano Maria Ghuleghina held her own. Her performance was a heady mix of sex, resignation, and, at the denouement, real horror.
Barbara Frittoli in Suor Angelica, Part II of Il Trittico.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera.
Barbara Frittoli sang the title role in Suor Angelica, the second panel of Puccini's triptych. Angelica is a western Butterfly--another in a long string of self-sacrificing Puccini heroines. Frittoli was in good, keen voice throughout this difficult opera, riding the character's emotional roller coaster and bringing out the depth behind the nun's wimple. This underrated opera (Puccini's favorite of the three) is one of the most powerful stage works about religion in the operatic canon.

The all-female cast and chorus (featuring Wendy White as the Monitor and Stephanie Blythe as the Princess) were excellent. The transcendence at the end evoked both Wagner'sParsifal and the headier passages of the Verdi Requiem. James Levine and the orchestra seemed to get lost in Puccini's shimmering textures. (They tend to do the same thing in Act III of Parsifal, so maybe it's the subject matter.)

Con and games: Alessandro Corbelli does the hustle in Gianni Schicchi.
Photo by Ken Howard © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera.
In the title role, Alessandro Corbelli anchored the robust, ribald performance of Gianni Schicchi. This opera turns on its title character, a lovable rogue who bilks a greedy but respectable family out of their inheritance. But the ensemble cast was loaded with strong performances. Stephanie Blythe (who had also appeared in Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica, completing the hat trick for the evening) was hilarious as Zita, one of the more obnoxious family members.

Massimo Giordano gave a strong performances as Runuccio, the opera's young, callow hero. His love interest, Lauretta was sung by the capable soprano Olga Mykytenko, making her company debut in the role. Her liquid "Io ma babbino, caro" brought down the house. The entire performance bristled with snappy delivery ad good humor--a highlight being the use of the house "Met Titles" to express a particularly vulgar Italian curse word as "&;@#$%!"

The Met Orchestra played particularly well under the direction of James Levine, bringing out the subtle background colors of Il Tabarro, the delicate textures of Suor Angelica, and the knockout comic punch of Schicchi.. Each production aimed for realism and a separate conception, yet the performances brought out the definite connection which Puccini was trying to express. One can ask nothing more from these three operas, except to wish that their return to the repertory is a permanent one.

Opera Review: Down I Go

David Daniels as Orfeo.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera.
The dress rehearsal of Orfeo et Euridice at the Met.
As part of my subscription for the 2007-2008 season (more on what I'm seeing in a future edition of this blog) I was lucky enough to get tickets for the Monday dress rehearsal of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, one of the hottest tickets in the final weeks of the spring opera season. I know that we critic types aren't realy supposed to write about dress rehearsals, bit it was such a significant performance that I am going to share my thoughts below. Yes the review is running a little late, but, here it is. Enjoy.

The star of this new Orfeo is the superb countertenor of David Daniels. Daniels specializes in baroque opera, singing with a high-pitched "head voice" (not unlike Jon Anderson of the rock band Yes). In 1997, his performance as Arsamene in Handel's Xerxes at the City Opera (opposite Lorraine Hunt Lieberson) was almost single-handedly responsible for the baroque opera revival that New York has enjoyed in the last ten years. Ms. Lieberson was originally supposed to sing Orfeo in this new Met production. She died last year, and Daniels stepped in to sing her commitments. The production is dedicated to her memory.

Gluck's opera retells an ancient myth, one of death and rebirth. Orpheus is the greatest musician the world has ever known. When his wife dies, he goes down into the Underworld to reclaim her. Unfortunately, he disobeys the edict of the Greek gods and looks at and speaks to Eurydice. When he does, she is lost to him forever. The opera adds a happy deus ex machina ending, where Eros restores the lovers to life. Historically, Orfeo marked a turning point for opera, away from the filigrees of the baroque era and toward the clean classicism of Mozart and Haydn.

David Daniels gives a powerful performance in the title role, with notes of Elvis and Buddy Holly in this modern staging. His countertenor remains a smooth-flowing, flexible instrument that can negotiate the highest parts of Handel and Gluck with dizzying speed and accuracy. Heidi Grant Murphy, descending (literally) from the heavens, brought perk and energy to the role of Amor, the God of Love who makes all things possible. Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska blended well with Daniels as Euridice.

The new production is spare, with choristers arranged on three stadium tiers above the action, commenting and singing like an old-fashioned Greek chorus. They are dressed as various historical figures, from Queen Elizabeth I and Abe Lincoln to Babe Ruth and John Lennon. The Met's choral forces were a powerful storm surge in this opera. Mention must also be made of the ballet forces. Director/choreograher Mark Morris created challenging choreography to dance, and they made the most of this ballet-heavy opera. James Levine led an exuberant reading of the score in the pit.

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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.