Gianni Schicchi

Merola's The Medium and Gianni Schicchi

Gianni Schicchi 3* Notes * 
The Merola Opera Program recently returned to Cowell Theater with a double-bill of The Medium and Gianni Schicchi. Directed by Peter Kazaras and conducted by Mark Morash, the Saturday afternoon performance was engaging and energetic.

The Medium is a stark, tense work, and Donald Eastman's simple scenery was enhanced by the Kazaras' straightforward direction. The set is two full walls arranged at angles from an upstage platform with a curtained scrim above it. A few solid pieces of furniture and pretty period costumes completed the ambiance, letting the singers shine.

Mezzo-soprano Nicole Woodward was impressively unhinged as Madame Flora (Baba). Her voice is rich. Soprano Madison Leonard made for a devastating Monica, her resonant sound has bite without being harsh. Soprano Kathryn Bowden (Mrs. Gobineau), bass-baritone Austin Siebert (Mr. Gobineau), mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon as Mrs. Nolan sang well together. Alasdair Kent did a fine job as Toby, a mute role. His movements were convincing and he was unrecognizable when he reappeared as Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi.

Gianni Schicchi (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken) happens in essentially the same space, but with the full walls pushed further from the center to make room for Buoso Donati's bedroom. The platform is now a terrace with patio furniture and a bird cage. Baritone Kihun Yoon fully embodied the title role. His voice is strong, with some grit to it. His stage presence is superb. His charisma was palpable from the very moment he stepped on stage.

The others did not perfectly match Yoon, but made fine efforts. Soprano Cree Carrico sang Lauretta prettily, and her big aria ("O mio babbino caro") went nicely. Christopher Bozeka (Rinuccio) sounded bright and pleasant. Kathryn Bowden (Nella), Ashley Dixon (Ciesca) and Tara Curtis (Zita) sang beautifully together as they veiled Yoon changing into Donati's clothes.

As the orchestra is on the same level as the audience, and Cowell is small, the music was loud. All the singers have a ton of volume, so by the time the matinée was over, my ears were ringing. Though not the most subtle of performances, it was certainly gripping.

* Tattling * 
I gave myself an hour and forty minutes to make it the 17.3 miles to the venue from my abode. Unfortunately it took me two hours, so I missed much of Act I of The Medium. The staff at Merola and Cowell were helpful and kind. Next time I will plan for lunch in the Marina.

Il Trittico at LA Opera

Suor-angelica * Notes *
There has been much ado about Woody Allen directing his first opera, one third of Puccini's Il Trittico, with William Friedkin, famed director of The Exorcist, directing the other two thirds. One cannot help feeling a bit skeptical of Los Angeles Opera hiring three film directors for the opening performances of the season, as of course, the opera in repertory with Puccini is The Fly directed by David Cronenberg. It was a surprise then that Il Trittico is not only good but actually excellent.

Under James Conlon, the orchestra sounded together throughout the three operas, and more or less with the singers as well. The set designer, Santo Loquasto, did a fine job with the sets, they were traditional without being dull. Although each opera is in a different time and place, the look of each was not haphazard, one having absolutely nothing to do with another. Lighting designer Mark Jonathan also helped in this, light was used dramatically in each opera. I only have a minor quibble on the lighting, the effect of water reflecting on various surfaces in Il Tabarro was a bit overdone. It was almost as if the opera was set underwater. Sam Fleming's costumes for Il Tabarro were pretty, and the colors enhanced the painterly set. His costumes for Suor Angelica were perfectly appropriate. It seems Santo Loquasto had fun with the adorable 40s costumes for Gianni Schicchi.

William Friedkin's direction of Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica was a perfect balance of letting the music speak for itself but also motivating the drama without being gratuitous. All the details were pitch-perfect, one never felt that someone was entering without any reason, or was doing something just because the director had told them to. It was impressive that such an artificial form, that is, opera, was rendered in a highly naturalistic manner. Some of the credit goes to the singers themselves, they were all fine actors, even rather minor characters like the drunken Tinca (Matthew O'Neill) of Il Tabarro or Sister Osmina (Angel Blue) with the roses hidden in her sleeves in Suor Angelica, were wonderful.

The principal singers of Il Tabarro were first-rate. Anja Kampe was a vunerable Giorgetta, her light delicate voice had good volume. Salvatore Licitra's warm, round voice suited Luigi, his resonant tones could be heard very well indeed. Mark Delavan had command over the role of Michele, his wrath was palpable, as was his heartbreak. In the smaller roles, Tichina Vaughn stood out as Frugola and Robert MacNeil as a Song Vendor.

The most impressive performance came from Sondra Radvanovsky in the title-role of Suor Angelica. Her voice is simply beautiful and her control is astounding. She conveyed the various emotions of the part deftly, from calm piety to utter despair. The supporting cast was fine, Jennifer Black (Sister Genovieffa) sang about longing to just see a lamb again with great charm and Larissa Diadkova embodied haughty disdain as the Angelica's aunt, the Princess.

Woody Allen held his own in Gianni Schicchi, beginning his production with some false title-credits, complete with silly Italian puns, as if the opera was a movie. The comedy was a bit over-the-top, Buoso Donati's will is found in a pot of spaghetti and Lauretta wields a knife she keeps tucked in a garter. However, it was funny, and the singers were all very good actors, especially Thomas Allen in the title-role. The singing was not as good as in the previous two operas, for one thing, Allen is a bit quiet. Though Jennifer Black made a fine effort as Lauretta, replacing Laura Tatulescu, and sang "O mio babbino caro" tunefully and prettily, she came up somewhat short. Only Andrea Silvestrelli (Simone) was extraordinary, this was worlds away from his recent Fasolt in Das Rheingold, but still wonderful.

* Tattling * 
Los Angeles Opera occasionally will play famous themes from the opera on a vibraphone to signal that it is time to go into the hall. For Il Trittico they used "O mio babbino caro," as it is the most famous aria from the three operas. I overheard the most amusing argument about what it was, one knew it was from one of the three operas, but another insisted it was from a more famous Puccini opera. The first person simply said that Puccini just stole from himself so much that all his arias were alike anyway.

A woman in Balcony Row B Seat 69 talked during the overture of Il Tabarro and was roundly hushed from all sides. Instead of being ashamed, she simply muttered "Shush, shush, shush, why don't you shush yourselves." She was quiet for most of the opera, but unfortunately spoke at the most dramatic moment, right at the end. Thankfully she was silent for Suor Angelica, and even cried. The rest of the audience was fairly quiet, though there was whispering during the music and several watch alarms at each hour.

At the end of Suor Angelica I had been quite moved, and then the Virgin Mary appeared suspended from the ceiling, as a dea ex machina to set everything right. Normally I would find this device effective, but it briefly reminded me of Precious Auntie in The Bonesetter's Daughter, and I nearly had a giggling fit.

Opera Company of Philadelphia's 2008-2009 Season

October 10-24 2008: Fidelio
November 14-23 2008: L'Italiana in Algeri
February 20- March 6 2009: Turandot
April 24- May 3 2009: L'enfant et les sortilèges/Gianni Schicchi
June 5-14 2009: The Rape of Lucretia

Nathan Gunn and William Burden will be singing in The Rape of Lucretia.

Press Release | Official Site

LA Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 6-26 2008: Il Trittico
September 7-26 2008: The Fly
October 2-18 2008: Madama Butterfly
November 15- December 14 2008: Carmen
January 10-25 2009: Die Zauberflöte
February 21- March 15 2009: Das Rheingold
April 4-25 2009: Die Walküre
April 11-26 2009: Die Vögel
May 21- June 21 2009: La Traviata

Two U.S. premieres and the company's first Der Ring des Nibelungen. Quite a lot of film directors this season: William Friedkin (Il Tabarro/Suor Angelica), David Cronenberg, and Woody Allen (Gianni Schicchi). I'm most interested in hearing Nathan Gunn as Papageno and Plácido Domingo as Siegmund. I have to say I'm disappointed that LA Opera is starting Der Ring the same year as Seattle Opera and Washington National Opera, and only a year after San Francisco Opera unveils Francesca Zambello's production on the West Coast.

Press Release [PDF] | 2008-2009 Season Official Site