Le Triptych at Opera de Paris

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(c) Susan Brodie

On the Waterfront

 

Il Trittico just completed its first run in Paris since 1987, and its very first appearance at Opéra Nationale de Paris, in Luca Ronconi's coproduction from La Scala. I thought it a mixed success: the spare, semi-abstract staging, lacked Puccini's signal specificity of place and looked even cheaper in the opera house than it did in La Scala's cinema broadcast. But it was a rare opportunity for Parisian audiences to see the trilogy, and some felicitous casting redeemed a not-so-exciting evening.

 

Il Tabarro is textbook verismo: the first two thirds of the opera depicts turn-of-the-20th-century French stevedore life, complete with background foghorns and car klaxons, and an eccentric Seine-side ragpicker. Once the plot, comprising disappointment, betrayal, suspicion, and murder, kicks into gear, it unfolds with inexorable efficiency; Philippe Jordan generated edge-of-the-seat suspense in the score's final stretch. Georgetta, as sung by talented young Ukrainian soprano Oxana Dycka, soared without screeching; tenor Marco Berti had a very good night as the not-quite-dashing but passionate Luigi. It's always a pleasure to see and hear veteran Juan Pons, who persuasively conveyed Michele's weariness, anguish, and rage as he is driven to revenge despite honorable intentions.

 

The problem child of the trio is Suor Angelica, a work that Puccini considered his finest despite an enduring lack of popular approval. The aristocratic Angelica, banished to a convent 7 years earlier for bearing a child out of wedlock, longs for news of her son. Her heartless aunt, come to demand Angelica's abdication of her inheritance, admits that the boy died two years earlier. Angelica yields to despair and poisons herself, receiving as she dies a sign of divine grace. Swell orchestra. A mostly static and saccharine score amplifies the sentimentality of the libretto. Staged this literally the story feels dated, and unfortunately the story's annoyances were not redeemed by the cast, mostly younger artists virtually disguised by voluminous nun's habits. Apart from Luciana d'Intino as a frighteningly imperious Zia Principessa, most brought little distinction to the work's vocal demands.

 

Pass to Gianni Schicchi, a tried-and-true crowd pleaser and, thankfully, a big improvement over the previous act. The ensemble brought just the right degree of over-the-top commedia dell'arte caricature to Dante's tale from Purgatory. Juan Pons (alone costumed in Renaissance doublet and tights, with everyone else in 20th century dress) returned as a winningly droll, sly con man. Ekaterina Siurina was irresistible as his lovesick daughter, bringing sweet timbre and tongue-in-cheek lyricism to her aria. Her sunny Rinuccio, tenor Saimir Pirgu, pushing only a little, cut a fine figure physically and vocally. Everyone else filled the bill just fine–the ensemble created a Fellini-esque romp that sent the audience out on a high note.