A stunning performance of Giacomo Puccini’s complete three-act Il Trittico played to a near capacity crowd at Green Hills Mall in Nashville Saturday, a high-definition big screen broadcast of the New York Metropolitan Opera Live from Lincoln Center. Maestro James Levine conducted.
First performed in 1918, Il Trittico is actually three distinct one-act operas, two heart-wrenching tragedies followed by a light-hearted look at living, dying and “the will.”
The opening segment, Il Tabarro, unfolds its tragedy in the form of a lovers triangle — with the faithless wife Giorgetta (Maria Guleghina) mourning the loss of a child, falling from her husband’s arms into the passionate embrace of an all too eager Luigi (Salvatore Licitra). Guleghina brings a beauty and power to the role, torn between what was, what is and what will be, yearning for the physical love of Luigi, while waging a love/hate war with her husband Michele (Juan Pons), the father of her lost child. Licitar’s voice, in a word, mesmerizes as he sings of his adoration and his frustration at not being able to claim his new love for his own. Pons offers a haunting aria of passion, hatred and despair as he realizes his wife has betrayed him, has triggered in him the power to kill.
The set design is a multi-story set of streets, docks, a boat and bridge that spans stories overhead. It is a dark set, with a somberness that mirrors the pain, suffering and rage of its characters.
The second act is Suor Angelica, a haunting story set in the stark courtyard of a convent, quiet and reverent, with heavily-robed and veiled sisters chanting prayer, moving through the simplicity of their daily lives with God, the ever-present Virgin Mary and each other. These spiritual woman talk of the Virgin, of faith, of their forbidden forays into wishes and dreams, while through them moves Sister Angelica (Barbara Frittoli), a quiet nun relinquished to the convent for some past transgression, surrounded in mystery as she works ‘miracles’ of healing through the plants she tends.
The story unfolds in a languid style; again, dark lighting, shadowed archways echoing the shape of the nuns in their veils, a hint of what may be the Virgin Mary in the recesses of the arch of the doorway, stone niches lit with candles as evening falls.
A guest arrives, an old woman in black, an aunt, asking for Angelica. The story moves from langor to hope, then dropping sharply from sorrow to despair. The listener learns that Angelica disgraced her family with the birth of an illegitimate son, and was banished to God’s service for that unforgivable result of youthful passion. Angelica’s inheritance, held in abeyance, must be released to her sister. Then, in an emotionally fatal blow, she is told that the young son she has dreamed of seeing, of loving, of one day holding in her arms, has died. Her aria, Senza Mamma, is heart-wrenching.
Defying God and the Virgin, Angelica succumbs to despair, looking to her herbs and flowers for the ones that can be the source of her own death. She drinks her fatal potion, immediately regrets this sin of suicide, and begs the forgiveness of the Virgin. Her hands reach up in supplication. From a cross high above the stage, golden light shines upon her her; the doors of the church are opened. In this halo of golden light, in this illuminated path of light across the stone steps and the courtyard, the Virgin and her son stand on the threshold, welcoming Angelica to heaven as she slumps to the ground, dead.
If Act One (Il Tabarro) climbed the mountain of the magnificent, Act Two (Suor Angelica) pushed this reviewer over the top and all the down the other side. Beyond the performances and the music, the sheer artistry of the set design and lighting created a haunting mood of both peace and desolation. In just a few words and in my characteristic bluntness: it doesn’t get any better than this.
Gianni Schicchi is Act Three, a total change of pace. Comedy. Old school comedy. Somewhat predictable, perpetually enchanting. The music lightens. The tenor shifts. Death is still the theme, but so is inheritance. And therein lies the story.
Buoso Donati is dying and has left it all to “the monks.” His family is not happy, and the two young lovers in this lighthearted tale are left without dowry or substantive income, and thus will not be allowed to marry. What to do? Write a new will. Mask the time of death long to let a comedy of mistaken identities put the money in the hands of a gaggle of mercenary relatives and friends..
The choreography of Act Three is delightful — replete with subtleties of movement, pacing, eye contact, gestures — all eked out with meticulous timing and the sharp edge of slapstick. The serious and melodic perfection of O Mia Babbino Caro, sung by Lauretta (Maria Guleghina), one of the anxious young lovers, steps far away from the comic for a few ethereal moments — leaving listeners holding their breath at the sheer beauty of this Puccini classic.
Plot and characters twist and turn around each other in a greedy war with time, each getting their just due. The young lovers emerge as the unsuspecting winners in this game of greed and the calculating Schicchi asides to the audience that his conniving game of fraud and trickery “was all worth it for the sake of love.”
Director Jack O’Brien more than met the challenge of staging this four-hour presentation, seeking three different moods from three distinctly different stories on one adaptable set. He moves Puccini’s characters through the light of love, the darkness of despair, creating an all-encompassing mood for each distinctive piece. Kudos. Peggy Eisenhower and Jules Fisher are to be equally commended for the stunning lightning effects, particularly in the first two segments. Douglas W. Schmidt spent 18 months creating the complex sets for this production. Every bit of it showed. Conductor James Levine masterminded this presentation of Puccini’s score, offering everything Met fans have come to expect.
In 2006, the Met offered its first Live in HD broadcast in North America, Europe and Japan, a technological follow-up to its acclaimed radio and PBS broadcasts. Building on that success, the Met now reaches its audiences through 239 worldwide venues, and 50,000 viewers — and counting. This groundbreaking effort mixes technology and the arts to stunning effect.
If Il Trittore is standard fare for HD broadcasts, the lines will only get longer at theaters like Green Hills or the Belcourt in Nashville. If Clarksville fans get lucky, maybe our Great Escape Theater will lend one or two of its screens to these productions. It’s only eight Saturdays a year. Clarksville music lovers would be queuing up for tickets. and thanking the theater profusely for stepping up to meet one this community’s unfilled musical needs.
The Metroplitan Opera: Live in HD, will offer eight performances: Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliette (December 15, 2007), and in 2008, Englebert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel (January 1), Giuseppi Verdi’s MacBeth (January 12), Puccini’s Manon Lescault (February 16), Benjamin Britten ‘s Peter Grimes (March 15), Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde (March 22), Puccini’s La Bomehe (April 5) and Gaetano Donazetti’s La Fille du Regiment [Daughter of the Regiment], April 26.
The broadcasts are heard in Dolby surround sound and include interviews and short features during the ‘intermission’ times.