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In Review > North America

Il Trittico

Opera Delaware

FOR ITS THIRD FESTIVAL SEASON under Brendan Cooke’s energizing direction, Opera Delaware programmed Puccini’s centenarian Il Trittico, a rarity as a totality on regional stages. The intimate Victorian Grand Theater is a huge asset to the company, but because backstage space is limited, Cooke decide to pair the two initial tragedies as one program, with Gianni Schicchi (plus Michael Ching’s 1996 sequel, Buoso’s Ghost) as another. A third bill offered piano-accompanied renditions of Act I of Bohème, Act II of Tosca and Act III of Butterfly. 

Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica opened strongly and movingly on April 28, thanks to Crystal Manich’s probing, cogent direction and Anthony Barrese’s finely rehearsed, judiciously paced orchestral work. (The tough initial Seine music let us know we were in sensitive hands musically.) Stephen Dobay’s clever set was essentially an angled rear wall that enclosed the working lives of the barge (and later convent). Paris’s stylized moon became Italy’s stylized sun; Tláloc López-Watermann lit with atmospheric acuity. 

All three Tabarro principals acted (and interacted) very credibly. Eleni Calenos (Giorgietta) proved a find, a real verista who delivered the goods stylistically, with keen phrasing and darkly warm if occasionally resin-tipped vocalism. Matthew Vickers looked a burly but virile Luigi and sustained some of Puccini’s most challenging tenor music with ringing power. Veteran singing actor Grant Youngblood (Michele) still commands much resonance (and legato when needed); he used his voice’s battle scars for expressive effect and, with Barrese, paced “Nulla, silenzio” to exciting effect. Equipped with healthy chest voice, Alissa Anderson charmed the audience with Frugola’s antics opposite Martin Hargrove’s mellow-sounding Talpa.

Calenos and Anderson returned after intermission as the familial antagonists of Suor Angelica. Though both striking women, by force of character projection they seemed completely different beings than as Giorgietta and Frugola. The program set all three operas in 1918; the only sign of that here was the Zia Principessa’s spectacular Edwardian attire, a burgundy dress with fur wrapper, white gloves and elaborate millinery; the rest of the Angelica design was essentially abstract, with the same wall silhouette in back but with rows of dried plants denoting the playing space and Angelica’s special preserve. The intimacy of the space helped Manich and her cast enact the story (seeming bucolic episodes followed by a sucker punch or two) with an unsentimental subtlety I’ve rarely seen. Calenos’ nun—ever the outsider—was extremely effective; she declined some high options but sustained vocal intensity and focus.

Anderson, again favoring the contralto end of things, scored every possible point textually and in detailed stance and movement. Anaïs Naharro-Murphy voiced Suor Genovieffa with the needed rainwater purity and charm. All the women sang capably; vocal standouts included Margaret Mezzacappa (Badessa) and Rebecca Roy (Suora Infermiera). Both Manich and costumer Howard Tsvi Kaplan did notably well in defining the nuns as individuals in appearance and demeanor. Stephanie Feigenbaum, for example, brought considerable character delineation to the Suora Zelatrice, making her policing role in the community credible and nuanced. Angelica ended the opera in a white shift, on a little bed with a table sporting a crucifix—the staging’s first overtly Christian imagery, but the specified Miracle occurred—whether in Angelica’s mind or in reality, it was hard to say, but the walls parted, revealing the angelic son she’d summoned. Much weeping filled the theater in the opera’s final scenes; surely Calenos deserved an initial solo “Butterfly bow” before the other much-applauded curtain calls.

The next afternoon was less special but still rewarding. Michael Ching helmed competently. Director A. Scott Parry kitted the set out to imply considerable affluence but leaned a little too much on insistent shtick; thanks to Forzano and Puccini, Schicchi is funnier the less “acting funny” the performers do. But Sean Anderson made a splendid, rumbustious and healthy-voiced Schicchi, with keen spoken diction in the epilogue(s).  Kirk Dougherty reveled exuberantly in Rinuccio’s high tessitura. Singing the aria now inevitably heard as “O mio babbino [‘Here it is!’] caro,” Sara Duchovnay showed warm sound but uneven production; Parry unaccountably made Lauretta a lush. 

Ching’s sequel, first heard in Memphis (1997), basically recycles and vamps music from Schicchi to play some additional changes on the (scheming) known characters. I’m not sure I buy that the returned Donati wouldn’t easily spot Schicchi’s channeling Buoso’s “ghost” for a fraud, or that the final romantic uniting of Schicchi and Zita sustains credulity, but it goes down easily enough. The main addition to the personae is a Magistrate, well sung by chameleonic Garrett Obrycki (Schicchi’s fine Notary and Doctor). We had strong character singing from Claudia Chapa (Zita), Matthew Curran (Simone) and Hans Tashjian (Betto) and especially healthy young voices in Alexandra Rodrick (Ciesca), Wesley Morgan (Pinellino/Monk) and Andrew Pardini ( Marco).  —David Shengold 

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