Il Trittico at the LA Opera Review – Triple-Terrific

Gianni Schicchi: Brian Leerhuber, Brently Heilbron, Steven Cody. Photo by: Robert Millard

Giacomo Puccini's three one-act operas, Il Trittico,  opened the 2008-09 LA Opera season this year, and G&G think it's the hottest ticket in town.

Gianni Schicchi: Thomas Allen. Photo by: Robert Millard

A theme runs through these separate stories. In Puccini's words, it's all about "the great sufferings of little souls." In particular, he's referring to his Tuscan countrymen, of whom he was so fond. The stories are: Il Tabarro ( The Cloak), a tightly constructed thriller set on the banks of the Seine; Suor Angelica ( Sister Angelica), a hugely sentimental work set in an Italian convent; and Gianni Schicchi, his only comedy, about a farcical family squabble over an inheritance. Each is unique in style, and yet all give insight into the colorful, passionate Italian character and the deep devotion to their children.

Parts one and two of the triptych are directed by filmmaker William Friedkin, best known for The French Connection and The Exorcist. Woody Allen directed part three. Production design is by Allen's longtime movie colleague Santo Loquasto, and each of the operas' sets is stunning. LA Opera music director James Conlon conducts.

Suor Angelica. Photo by: Robert Millard

This is the 150th anniversary of the composer's death. G&G agree with Friedkin when he says, "This music will live on because no other composer combines truth and beauty or makes you laugh and cry like Puccini."

Gerald: It was interesting to me that it was Friedkin who directed Gianni Schicchi on the L.A. stage six years ago. As I remember it, the production seemed rather stiff and formal. The Allen version is anything but. More Bowery Boys, with lots and lots of comic physical business and sight gags. But I don't think Friedkin has been outdone here. His direction of those first two is masterful. They are incredibly moving dramatic pieces. Maybe it's not too much of a stretch to say he's come into his own as a director of opera?

William Friedkin, Placido Domingo, James Conlon and Woody Allen. Photo by: Robert Millard

Georja: Domingo pursued Allen for four years to get him to direct something. Since comedy is his forte, and Gianni Schicchi is the only comedy Puccini ever wrote, it seems the natural choice.

Gerald: I guess we won't be tearing this one apart, huh?

Il Tabarro: Anja Kampe, Mark Delavan. Photo by: Robert Millard

Georja: I'll tell you some things I especially liked. In Il Tabarro the character Luigi, played by tenor Salvatore Licitra, had a showstopper number where he sings of the sorrows of the working class: "It's better not to think."  When baritone Mark Delavan (Michele) brings up the memory of the child he and his wife lost, his powerful, sad tones elicit strong emotions. When you find out the reason he and his wife have drifted apart, it gives a whole new dimension to the love triangle (with Luigi).

Gianni Schicchi: Thomas Allen, Laura Tatulescu. Photo by: Robert Millard

Gerald: In a different opera, it would have been an easy choice to cast Michele as a villain--the evil, vengeful cuckold. But here, none of the lovers is at fault. They're all following their hearts, yearning for happiness, and the conflicting desires of the other two are the main reason not one finds it!

Suor Angelica: Sondra Radvanovsky. Photo by: Robert Millard

Georja: The convent setting for Suor Angelica is beautiful and reminiscent of the monastery at Assisi. They say there's no love stronger than a mother's love. And in this opera it is given full sway. Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky takes center stage--expressing selfless, pure love in a clear, saintly voice in candlelit scenes. Her desperate longing can only be met with a deus ex machina, the Virgin Mary.

Gerald: It's such a powerful performance she almost upstages the Madonna, and that's saying something!

Georja: It sounds crazy, but I wanted to die with her, it was so beautiful. I cried a bucket then felt like a wrung-out washcloth!

Gerald: I admit I was moved, and choruses of nuns usually don't do it for me.

Georja: That melody "Senza mama" is said to be Puccini's crowning glory, and I have to agree.

Il Tabarro: Anja Kampe, Salvatore Licitra. Photo by: Robert Millard

Gerald: The most memorable set piece in the whole three acts is "O mio babino caro," sung by soprano Laura Tatulescu (Laurette) to her father Gianni, played with panache by the legendary Sir Thomas Allen. Lots of people know that aria who never entered an opera house-it's that famous, that gorgeous.

Georja: I'll never be able to listen to that aria again without thinking of the beautiful Sicilian daughter pleading with her father to do something so she doesn't lose her boyfriend. "He is so handsome," and if she doesn't have him, she'll "jump from the Ponte Vecchio into the Arno."

The set of Gianni Schicchi. Photo by: Robert Millard

Gerald: What really got me was its context in the story. She's also trying to get him to work a con on the boy's rube family. The comic irony! It makes the sweetness of the song downright saccharine. A love song that's both touching and silly.

Georja: In this story, con-man Gianni Schicchi poses as the dying uncle of a gold-digging family to rewrite his will. The Schicchi character first appears in Dante's Inferno, later in the Commedia del Arte as "the trickster." The combination of Puccini's humor and Allen's direction is zany. To quash any protests from the family, Schicchi reminds them, if they're caught collaborating, they'll each have a hand cut off and be exiled from Florence. There are plenty of opportunities after that for him to mug a hand cut off, and they get the message.

Il Tabarro: Tichina Vaughn, Anja Kampe. Photo by: Robert Millard

Gerald: What is there to say besides you're lucky if you can still get tickets?

Georja: I wouldn't be surprised if this is the start of a boom for the LA Opera. You get almost four hours of opera and you go through every emotion a human being can feel. Talk about getting your money's worth!

Il Trittico by Giacomo Puccini at the Los Angeles Opera

Directed by William Friedkin and Woody Allen
Musical direction by James Conlon
Production design by Santo Loquasto

Saturday      September 6, 2008     6:00 p.m.
Thursday      September 11, 2008     7:30 p.m.
Sunday        September 14, 2008     2:00 p.m.
Wednesday  September 17, 2008     7:30 p.m.
Sunday        September 21, 2008     2:00 p.m.
Tuesday       September 23, 2008     7:30 p.m.
Friday         September 26, 2008     7:30 p.m.

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