* 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.