Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Il Hittico!

Oh god, that's even worse.

People do seem to love it, though, and not without reason.

Last night was, for me, a few things. It was the first time I heard ACB at the Met (um, yes, her debut was last Friday and I was AWOL) and that by itself was a thrill, especially in that she sounded de-lovely. It was a fascinating lesson in casting to the strengths of singers who at times don't seem to have any, about which more in a minute. It was also, and this isn't necessarily of interest to anyone who doesn't live in my head, where I discovered which Puccini opera is my favorite and which is my least.

The least, I'll just end the suspense here, is Suor Angelica. For me, a painfully treacly exercise, this one. Makes my teeth hurt. I once read in liner notes somewhere the opinion that the first act of Samson et Dalila is like watching asparagus grow. Same goes for the first half hour of Angelica, as far as I'm concerned, and in this production actually...well I decided to watch without reading my Met titles and can tell you now: it's about nuns gardening. Maybe they're growing asparagus. No, of course not. It's actually about how religion inherently ruins people's lives, but then I think a lot of things are about that. The cast was without a weak link, though I felt like I might enjoy a slightly heftier voice in the title role, and the set was the best kind of purely representational stagecraft: realistic but not kitchen-sinky, though the mule could go, cute as it was. Say did you ever stop and wonder, when she's signing over her fortune to la Zia Principessa (a villain of dumbfounding banality) what name she's signing? Because, like, it must be her real name. Her whole name. I like to think it was Rivka Rosenblatt, because it makes the whole story just a leetle more complicated. Maybe just more comic. My friend Michelle in high school insisted that certain works--I think her example was Jane Eyre--became tolerable only when you thought of them as comedies. Certainly a Vera Galupe-Borzkh Angelica would be good fun; is there one?

But yeah, my new fave Puccini, the one that gets to go around wearing a sash that says "Maury's Favorite Puccini Opera," is Il Tabarro, just for being so very lean and unsentimental both lyrically and libretto-wise. This one was the miracle of casting. Guleghina, whose Norma I'm dreading like everyone else, sounded like a dream, and of course her dramatic commitment has never been in question, so she was fun to watch. Juan Pons who has given me some great nights (Pagliacci years ago) and some headaches (can't remember, blocked it out), well, Michele fit into his voice just as whatsername, Murgatroid?, did for Guleghina. Flaws erased, strengths underlined. Above all, Salvatore Licitra was like a completely different singer than I remember pissing all over various Verdi scores. Virile is a good word, and "in tune"--that's two very good words.

I know I should be saying more about Stephanie Blythe. There is absolutely no question she is a top notch singer. I bet, if you think about it, you have a singer everybody really loves that you think is just fine. That's pretty much Stephanie Blythe for me. I have absolutely no idea why she doesn't set off fireworks for me. There's really nothing missing. I guess I liked her most as Zita in Gianni Schicchi because I think she's a fun comedienne, and the whimsical spirit of Jack O'Brien's very updated Schicchi made nice use of that. Yeah, the hijinks are a bit senior playish in a way the libretto makes unavoidable, but it's gentle and the sets (plural, yep, well hello Mr. Stage Elevator! How've you been since Aida?) are, at risk of damning with pastel praise, really pretty, and it's hard not to like. Good ensemble cast with some soloists I feel I didn't get to size up properly.

Up next: Cesare on Friday, but you've already heard all about that, and besides, I'm dealing with a minor case of blog burnout.


Anonymous said...

Heeey, I think I'm going to do Cesare on Friday; can't make it today. Totally undersold, so good tickets=good possibility. :)

Will said...

I'm seeing TRITTICO over the May 4-5 weekend in company with the new ORFEO and the new BARBIERE, albeit in its second cast manifestation. Set designer Doug Schmidt (the Puccini) and I were at B.U. Theater School together back somewhere in the Paleolithic and I'll be interested to see how he's translated Puccini's three rather modest settings into the 24 container monster that's causing all the appreciative comment.

ANGELICA does have a bit of a slow start (although there are several little time bombs of important information buried among the kitch) but from the moment La Zia enters,for me it becomes a major work. The final sequence beginning with Angelica's "Senza Mamma" straight thrugh to the end is worth waiting out a hundred Monitor Sisters and Mendicant Sisters and accidental bee stings--I think it's just great Puccini.

Mark said...

Yeah... I am with Will re the ending of Suor Angelica... I am like all chills and watery eyes. P. knows how to work those chord progressions to perfection.

Anonymous said...

This was my first Il Trittico. Perhaps it was the hour of free wine at the Young Patron's reception that my friend Charlotte got me into, but I was on Cloud 9 throughout the evening.

I echo your praise of Il Tabarro - what a fantastic score - it's an entire evening of passion and drama packed into about 55 minutes. Guleghina, whom I am not dreading at all as Norma, and Licitra were fantastic. I loved the 2 nuns walking over the bridge - in a way to prepare us for Suor Angelica.

I was very moved by Suor Angelica - I love the opening Sound of Music-like nun hijinks. I thought Frittoli was in peak form. While I could easily see a camp version of this being funny, I think the tortured ex-Catholic in me found this piece and this staging incredibly moving. (I do think a camp version should include the Good Friday music from Parsifal at the end and Kundry trying to sneak into heaven with Angelica.)

I LOVED Gianni Schicci - it was The Sopranos meets Falstaff. I thought this was hilarious. And the scene change was completely unexpected and wonderful.

A major "Brava" to Stephanie Blythe - I wanted to stay after, see her at the stage door, bow down to her and say "Reverenza".

Huomiseksi said...

Re: Suor Angelica... I guess it's the sort of story you either have a taste for or not. I love it.

It's actually about how religion inherently ruins people's lives, but then I think a lot of things are about that.

What struck me about Trittico was that each of the three stories was about how ALL the usual things we build our lives upon can bring ruin. Not just religion, but also family, love/marriage, law, class, morals. Was this the intended message behind Puccini's (or whoever's -- Adami? Forzano?) choice of stories? Come to think of it, opera stories pretty much always deal with themes like this.

Maury D'annato said...

huomi: I guess what gets under my skin is that the entire tragedy of the story is based on these idiotic ideas enforced by religion, so I have a hard time focusing on the dead baby thing when the larger tragedy is these women have (for various reasons like "sex is bad!") tossed away their lives in service of a ghost story. I don't know the libretto well enough to comment further, but it's my impression Angelica's faith is supposed to be part of why we feel sympathy for her, rather than making us--well, me--want to shake her. When the Virgin Mary appears at the end, I can only wonder why Angelica doesn't summon her last ounce of strength to punch her lights out for ruining her life. (Now you know what'll happen in the version I direct.)

What's funny is that the little speech at the end of Schicchi is so mocking and unpious, seemingly unable to take the ridiculous idea of hell seriously at all, making it a punchline.

Huomiseksi said...

Yeah, that's exactly what I mean! In a way, Schicchi's little speech sums up a current of iconoclasm running through all three operas.

In Tabarro, passionate love is messed-up and disastrous instead of redemptive. In Angelica, religion destroys a woman instead of protecting her. And in Schicchi, greed trumps greed trumps greed, and the audience goes home laughing even though a kind of tragedy has taken place!

At the end of it I felt, "That was a great show. But... it was all so cynical!" It was interesting.

(Please forgive my dialog-within-a-blog)

Maury D'annato said...

Forgive? Please, if people didn't talk back I wouldn't blog.

Anyway that's interesting, because my assumption was that I wasn't enjoying SA because to enjoy it, you had to be moved by her faith, salvation, and other words that make me reach for the gin bottle.

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