The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Met 2009-10 opening broadcast: Puccini's Il Trittico - and perhaps other tales of being naughty to fabricate

For opening the new Met broadcast season, we got revisited the Jack O’Brien production of Trittico from near end of third season ago. Redolent of Zeffirelli’s legacy at the Met, this production accomplishes providing congenially ample, detailed backdrop to the action, while allowing each of the three stories in this to conventionally work out against it. Where this idea of producing Trittico fell short the most in 2007, it also did here, even if less so than before, with Il Tabarro. David Cangelosi (Il Tinca) incisively excited yet again minimal passion - just assumed to be enough on which to get by - from Salvatore Licitra (Luigi). Paul Plishka made his crusty vocal state apparent as Il Talpa and Stephanie Blythe just minimally more insightful her casual romp through La Frugola,

We all know that Licitra is not a Del Monaco in either weight or volume, but there is still something to be made of Luig, more than coasting through it. He even took his murderous altercation with Michele matter-of-fact. Luigi’s pent-up anger can still cut through an overall countenance of vulnerability. Licitra’s affable tone was pleasant, except for strained high notes, but it all related yet again close to nothing as Luigi.

Zeljko Lucic, fine recent Macbeth for Levine, was Michele.. His best assets were his dark tone, evenness of articulation and seriousness about assignment as stevedore boss. Except for slight strain in achieving a few high notes, Lucic was still confident in achieving the overall tessitura. What quickly became apparent too, in catching the introversion of a good Michele, was a constant emotional reserve that missed some change of mood and color (harmony) here and there, for instance in Michele’s attempt to draw some fresh warmth out of the Giorgetta right next to him. The end of his arioso “Resto vicino a me” emerged more as vocal achievement than anything else - his brief line of ‘squaldrina’ (‘whore”) so mulled over and laughter at the very end in revealing to Giorgetta her dead lover - somewhat a misplaced Karloff or Vincent Price applied irony - highly doubtful here. Not all was lost. Lucic stopped well short of making caricature of Michele, in delivering vocal eloquence, and some sense of inner frustration and anguish.

Patricia Racette, essaying all three soprano leads, came across most curious as Giorgetta. After Stratas and Scotto, she becomes the third to do so, all three at once, at the Met. Malfitano also did for Chicago some nearly ten years ago. Lower register for Giorgetta means the most that it does for any of the three leads. Racette gratefully found some reserves upon which to draw that way. Middle register came across grainy and hollow, but curiously enough with less pitch problems than afflicted her Cio-Cio San last season. Passaggio and higher were still unstable, even with. sympathy for Giorgetta’s frustration and plight still made clearly apparent. Similar to Paoletta Marrocu’s Giorgetta for Chailly, there was touch of soubrette, though partly thanks to incredibly insightful staging at La Scala put to more specific use there than here. An all knowing earnestness to Giorgetta in how Racette played this also worked against her and perhaps also against our sympathies as well. Racette muted expected passion for Luigi and expression of desire for freedom from situation in which Giorgetta finds herself.

The Patricia Racette - as publicity writes - that dissolved into each heroine in Trittico, came about most, if still overtly so, as Angelica. Some quavery tone compromised both her opening offstage solo and start to refrain of “I desideri sono i fiori del vivi,” but with the latter a fully formed individual indeed emerged the most it had yet in this Trittico. Racette very well found somber color and warmth for the episode with the wasp stung sister, and very well too beseeching tone, moments of hysteria and deep sadness so well by end of central scene with the Princess. “Senza mamma” was felt to just significant extent from within, deeply moving, but compromised by two things – too much sobbing, gasping during orchestral interlude for slow exit of the aunt soon before and tone incapable of placing quite right - getting stuck in groove on sustained notes near the break. One had to admire how very closely Racette listened Saturday for intonation, for it not to go so far astray as for Butterfly and Don Carlo still recently from the Met.

One could also suspect some copying of Scotto’s interpretation – noticeably so in the death scene. Scotto, well understood by Racette, conveys on disc how different from her it is interpretively, given her personality and what different feeling she would have for Angelica from more culturally inbred information she naturally had for the part. Scotto was still not ultimately more a genuine Angelica than Racette. Racette invested tremendous adrenaline into making the last twenty minutes of this work the way they did for her, to be able to issue forth tone and also line of some quality from deep below and the larynx. She did so in such a way that could have risked for her more damage than already some faulty technique over so much time. Her Lauretta, while sincere, in Gianni Schicchi, sounded both mature and knowing, with persistent wobble above the staff.

Here was still an estimable achievement - one, doing all three heroines in one night, not easy at all – one often resulting in one compromise or another – with the dangerous tessitura in Angelica and considerable difference between how all three parts are written. Barbara Frittoli had the more even tone and legato, more restrained poise as Angelica in 2007, making something, mildly remindful of Tebaldi, equally moving of it then.

Wendy White and Barbara Dever repeated their Monitor and Novices ‘assistant principal’ from two years back - authoritatively so. White had the steadier tone and air of authority and sympathy - Dever the chestier, mildly more incisive, with crack to the sound in issuing reprimands hither and yond – remindful perhaps of how Fedora Barbieri sounded at it. Heidi Grant Murphy, occasionally exposing some thinness of sound, filled such out in echoing some of what had preceded her from Racette on early refrain with very convincing warmth; she ideally found the naïve, sad, and charming simplicity of Genoveffia to near Cotrubas levels. The musical and interpretative growth of this artist, through the Angel for Metzmacher in Messiaen last year at the Proms has been something lately very noteworthy. Tamara Mumford was still stern but more warmly authoritative as the Abbess, toward fitting new interpretative profile for upcoming meeting between Angelica and the Princess than the more incisively stern Patricia Risley in 2007. The two lay sisters lacked sufficient intonation, but two alms sisters expressively won our sympathies, as did the sweet toned Dolcina (Jennifer Check).

Alright! Time now for Steffi – not the one on ABC News– as to help kick off now a new season of the Meg and Ira show. What is to make of such incomplete synopsis with full interview cut-ins of Miss Blythe? Are we then to start on episode of One Life to Live or Guiding Light? Reckless daughter of estate shows up to then be informed of dead child – notification, herb preparation on Friday, suicide on the Monday. I mean, is this Miss Blythe or could it be instead Stephanie Forrester (or better yet if she could still sing – Maureen Forrester)? With all the consultants, publicity the Met hires, why not Susan Flannery? At one point, I was fully expecting news of hot dates out on the town for cocktails with young, dashing Albanian tenor before all got said and done – excesses that Ms. Flannery might recall for her character – or perhaps own personal life as well?

Sure, there are back stories to any character here, but if you will, please show me where in the music. We should not be getting melodramatic excess for scene with the Princess either; both ways quickly turn to bathos all the same. Almost churlish to mention it, but the one Trittico I have run across that most successfully avoided both potential problems for this scene was with Barbara Frittoli and the more aged sounding Marjana Lipovsek for Chailly and Ronconi. Certainly, Miss Blythe has grown in her understanding of the part, but vis-à-vis the music, somehow sounded distracted this time, as she also did so much as informed by byplay with Saimir Pirgu during Gianni Schicchi. We can fully surmise that Zita has done much the same thing in gathering up a few potentially undocumented immigrants herself. Here is indeed a real artist - with the fine voice, beautiful technique and stamina Miss Blythe offers. Churlish though it may be to mention it, but since Ronconi/Chailly, nobody at the Met has come up with any better. In the music of Trittico, as well in theater linguistics, there are what are called gaps. Come to think of it, it is the midcult pop mysticism of how the Met’s Suor Angelica ends that by now has become rather silly, as much as anything else.

In film technique that Trittico, out of all Puccini wrote, may have influenced the most, one has suture to fill in gaps mentioned, suture that protects or consoles us from encounter with the Real, on Jacques Lacan terms. Here so much of society is made up of the entire hierarchy of the family, the convent, the whole social order running things that in place of that insufficiency, there is also trace or stain of mysticism that Luca Ronconi uses that functions as suture in its place. Suture provides the role of something that may in a way symbolically provide some validation underneath the rest in the vicinity of the destitution of so much even in our midst. We do not need back stories. Many of us have lived life and have also seen more than enough soap opera. It makes for great coddling to bring up the Princess’s back stories, may even win new audiences, but such also, I have a flash, protects us too from work of art itself as well as from any real encounter with it thereof. The structure, the integrity, the aesthetic of Puccini’s music may demand a little more– but what do I know? Disregard what I say. Bring Susan Flannery on!

Turning at last to Gianni Schicchi, after tallying it all up, if one had to name most successful artist here, the answer is obvious – Alessandro Corbelli. I hope saying so lends some credence to hope that we need a new dvd out of this with him cast as Schicchi. The one dvd featuring him in this is so unsatisfactory, as to not generate any real humor or laughter at all.

Saimir Pirgu was the sweet toned, lyrical, astutely minded and phrased Rinuccio – better than I remember him from the broadcast of the L.A. Trittico with Thomas Allen fine in the title role. He understated “Avete torto”, to sincerely affect modesty - especially with Miss Blythe not far away, but then rose with good chutzpah for the aria’s closing lines, and soared freely, doubling a wobbly Racette for closing refrain on the balcony. Blythe – more broad than specific to character - some nagging inability thus far to ideally find the part of Zita in her voice - and Racette I have mentioned already.

Donato di Stefano repeated his sense of cross between gravitas and parody of such to perfection as Simone. Patrick Carfizzi went out of his way to make Betto appear crotchety, while incisive with his words. Patricia Risley and Jennifer Check had in each their individual manner the dolcezza for Ciesca and Nella. Risley on purpose made something more clearly hypocritical of Ciesca, to great humorous effect – both artists repeats from last time. Paul Plishka evinced comic gifts very well as the doctor, James Courtney haughty, equally benighted sense of authority as the notary to risible effect.

As for Stefano Ranzani, he offered more a mixed bag, in terms of results, than did Levine in 2007. There were elements of each drama for which he showed sympathy, others that eluded him. His Il Tabarro, while Levine indeed gave us cleaner ensemble and more secure downbeats, had the earthier, grittier quality to it. Hanging this Trittico on the broad panoramas of the O’Brien production is tricky, to say the least, also its great charm that helped trip up Levine. More it was issues perhaps on how to ideally coordinate it all with at times temptation to still apply the broad brush that may have eluded Ranzani. Sense of what harmonic changes occur and how they fit and interact, attendant on shifts in light of the early evening sky and of mood of the river below require in Il Tabarro a little more rubato than Ranzani felt comfortable offering us. Even while tentative, Ranzani's feel for color and atmosphere was much preferable to that of Levine.

Levine found the more Gallic delicacy, luminous quality of sonority for Suor Angelica, the opening of which Ranzani, too broad, made just generically plush. Opening sonorities, slow current of pulsation underneath, to avoid things starting flat-line for bird call as halo above, got compromised. As the convent came to life however, so did Ranzani, with him supporting his singers well and finding together with fine supporting cast the simplicity of their lines. Ranzani then mustered up the vitality to support Racette in full, though hinting at sinking all into bathos – especially if all had gone more broadly than it had already.

Schicchi turned out probably best for Ranzani, though one had to wait to hear forthright enough the boisterous laugh that opens the dramma giocoso until it would repeat after the new will had been read. Corbelli was firing off on all cylinders here, so nobody could have done anything at this point but follow him.

“Avete torto” lacked rhythmic swagger - chords underneath to potentially lend things more oomph than anybody at first mustered for it. Much of the parody, wit of the story still made it across the footlights incisively, if slightly more awkwardly at several junctures than with Levine. Evident here was more a rambunctious eccentricity of the writing. Ranzani capped all off with gorgeous sense of twilight for young couple over sight of Il Duomo and all Florence behind them - nostalgia laden morbidezza from the strings on aching consequent, followed by speech and boisterous close to everything.

Corbelli had the greater freedom at the Met – than on dvd - especially this time, in investing Schicchi, marking the bitterness in the writing, with the peasant manner of the guy with utmost simplicity. This included in his specific dealing with each family member and with those helping tend to business. His was most of all the great wit, savage at times, especially during the reading of the will, and ingenuity. The part has deepened for him - perhaps a virtue or two of the Glyndebourne Schicchi I have overlooked. Next to this at the Met, it looks and feels so very stiff, whereas at the Met Corbelli is free.

Jack O’Brien does not quite have the complete picture in giving us such a naturalistic approach. There is so much, with all its intentional gaps this piece has, so few of those underlined by Puccini, easy to miss. The casual, glib, quasi-Broadway manner with Il Tabarro shortchanges it - such as would be an outing by the nouveau riche to do the radical chic thing and go slumming through the lower depths. In all perspective, much of the story still does get told, though missing what may indeed lie beneath its surface. I found Ira a bit derisive at intermission about idea of allowing room for a (small) barge onstage. Well, it so happens, Ira, that the music in Il Tabarro does obsess somewhat with the river; should one crowd out the river for magnificent panorama of Paris, then one could have missed or have significantly undercut something – Puccini’s music.

Alessandro Corbelli may have walked to a triumph here, albeit a bit vocally thicker as Schicchi than previously at the Met, but free as he ever has been at anything before – and absolutely hilarious. He will agree– why Ronconi and Chailly were so incredibly successful at this in Milan – that the hero at end of day with Il Trittico is always still Giacomo Puccini.

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