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In Review > International

Il Trittico

Bavarian State Opera

In Review Munich Angelica lg 318
Suor Angelica in Munich, with Ermonela Jaho and Michaela Schuster
© Wilfried Hösl

BAVARIAN STATE OPERA engaged Dutch stage director Lotte de Beer, a fast-rising star in Europe’s opera houses, to stage a complete Trittico, which had its first night on December 17 at the Nationaltheater. De Beer did not try to reinvent the works but used Puccini’s score and the texts by Adami and Forzano as her basis, staging the three operas with uncanny precision as well as great understanding of each work’s dramatic world. Interpersonal relationships were painted with searing intensity, individual destinies with heartfelt compassion. De Beer packed so much power into the confrontation between Sister Angelica and the haughty Zia Principessa that it might well be compared to Elektra’s confrontation with her mother, Klytämnestra; the sheer drama of the scene took one’s breath away. The same might be said for Michele’s great duet with Giorgetta, not to mention the nearly unendurable crescendo of passion during Giorgetta’s scenes with Luigi. Gianni Schicchi might have had a few too many realistic details—for example, the child given a coin to fetch Schicchi spent the money on sweets, then vomited on Gherardo—but the stagecraft was generally at the genius level.

The death of Giorgetta and Michele’s infant, the death of Angelica’s son and, of course, the death of Buoso Donati in Gianni Schicchi give the three Trittico operas a common theme; allowing Il Tabarro to meld into Angelica with almost no interruption at all tied the two tragedies in this trio even more tightly together. De Beer used the musical introductions of the first two works to delve into the past, whether it was the grief over the loss of a child in Tabarro or the cutting of Angelica’s hair when she first entered the cloister. 

The Orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera played at its absolute best under general music director Kirill Petrenko, who succeeded royally in creating a different sound world for each opera. In Il Tabarro, Petrenko limned Puccini’s Parisian atmosphere with enviable orchestral transparency, then turned up the temperature as the dramatic situation heated up. Giorgetta’s“È benaltro il mio sogno!,” leading up to her duet with Luigi, was accompanied with indescribable intensity. Suor Angelica transported orchestra and singers into another, more delicate world without losing sight of the force necessary for the crucial scene between Angelica and her aunt. In Gianni Schicchi, Petrenko used quicker, almost dancelike tempos to push the action toward its inevitable conclusion.

Ermonela Jaho was Suor Angelica. Jaho’s timidity at the beginning of the work was well calculated. Her voice grew as the opera progressed, until her passion in the central confrontation with her Aunt—sung and acted by a most imposing Michaela Schuster—crossed into unfathomable pathos. The young nun’s suicide had handkerchiefs out all over the house. Suor Angelica has been scorned by conventional wisdom as merely sentimental. In this production, Angelica was the equal, if not the superior, of its two companion works. The apotheosis showed the Aunt and a child of seven years in the light of the cross, suggesting that Angelica might have been lied to by her conniving relative, solely to induce Angelica to cede her financial rights. 

Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Giorgetta dominated Il Tabarro. Westbroek cut a plain, retiring figure at the outset, but her voice grew in geometrical proportion to her emotional explosions, her vocal fullness matching her riveting interpretation of the role. Baritone Wolfgang Koch was perhaps not the ideal Michele, but he sang with conviction and acted compellingly. Tenor Yonghoon Lee did his best imitation of Mario del Monaco without the latter’s electric stage presence. Lee’s outbursts were one-dimensional and sempre fortissimo. It was, however, quite a solid fortissimo, and there is something to be said for a singer who can sing top notes at that dynamic level without losing tonal focus. Claudia Mahnke was an irresistible Frugola, Martin Snell a sonorous Talpa and Kevin Conners sang a particularly well-delineated Tinca.

The rubber-faced Ambrogio Maestri stole the show as the title character in Gianni Schicchi, his large, malleable voice proving the equal of the large, malleable rest of him. His dramatic energy might have caused the only incongruity of the production, as his restless jumping in and out of bed must surely have been seen by the notary, who would have registered that an imposter was at work. Rosa Feola was a pert Lauretta, Pavol Breslik a limpidly lyric Rinuccio. The rest of the roles were all cast from the company’s strength. —Jeffrey A. Leipsic 

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