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20 April, 2007

Trittico Gala at the Met - splendid opera on a grand scale

Metropolitan Opera

8pm – 12.20am (!) Friday 20 April 2007


GiorgettaMaria Guleghina
MichelePatrick Burchinal
LuigiSalvatore Licitra
TincaDavid Cangelosi
TalpaPaul Plishka
SongsterJohn Nuzzo
FrugolaStephanie Blythe


AngelicaBarbara Frittoli
NunsWendy White,
Heidi Grant Murphy,
Maria Zifchak,
Patricia Risley
PrincessStephanie Blythe


ZitaStephanie Blythe
SimoneDonato di Stefano
RinunccioMassimo Giordano
SchicchiAlessandro Corbelli
LaurettaOlga Mykytenko
RelativesPatricia Risley,
Jeff Mattsey,
Jennifer Check,
Bernard Fitch,
Patrick Carfizzi,
Jacob Wade
DoctorPaul Plishka
LawyerDale Travis


ConductorJames Levine
ProductionJack O’Brien
SetsDouglas W. Schmidt
CostumesJess Goldstein
LightingJules Fisher,
Peggy Eisenhauer

Dear Colleagues,

Il Trittico had its world premiere at the Met in 1918 and had only one new production here since, in 1975. This much touted recreation, by Jack O’Brien, is said to be one of the most ambitious ventures of the Met.

Billed as a ‘night of nights’, there was a half page item in the NY Times the day of the Gala. And few could have been disappointed. The three contrasting works were put on with care, skill and excitement to a rapturous applause.

Each of the four stage settings (yes, Schicchi had two sets), was spectacular and received applause – something I always find irritating – but it was hard not to want to join in. The barge on the Seine was massive and realistic in its dreariness, and adjacent loading wharves, skyline of Paris in the background at dusk. An enormous steel pedestrian bridge surmounted the entire setting, from stone steps on the quayside.

Suor Angelica occurred in what looked like an idyllic monastery with two matching cloisters on left and right of a chapel. Huge double doors had a gilded Filipo Lippi-esque nativity which turned ‘3-D’ in the last minutes of the heart tugging story. The latter could easily have been missed due to an intense white beam shone from the chapel roof at the end.

Gianni Schicchi took place in a large Florentine studio apartment with spiral staircase to glorious Boboli type garden on the roof. This only appeared in the last minutes of the opera as the entire set sank to reveal our lovers and muse, Schicchi overlooking the whole of Florence and the Tuscan valleys. We are in the 1960s so much is very familiar to baby boomers. Specifically there were cocktail frocks, shirt sleeves, an old ‘portable’ television, oxygen cylinder, face mask (to obscure face from lawyer) etc.

I never thought that Frugola would ever be the star of the night, yet Stephanie Blythe sang and acted life into this quaint character.

Juan Pons was replaced by Frederick Burchinal as Michele in Il Tabarro. He was adequate but hardly in Pons’ class.

Salvatore Licitra also sang impressively on the night as Luigi. The duet with Ms Guleghina was electric. She was shrill and somewhat uneven but still very exciting - while his death and exposure was painful as it was shocking.

Frugola’s husband was played by wobbly veteran Paul Plishka who forgot his shared exit lines. It is intriguing to this outsider that the Met keeps on some of these old-timers (Ramey, Plishka, Anthony) while reportedly dropping popular singers in their prime like Hong and Swenson. Old men are kept on but women in their vocal prime are dropped!

Ms Blythe also excelled in two further roles (the Princess and Aunt Zita) which meant that her extremely large and beautiful voice became a bench-mark for the evening.

Suor Angelica, starring Barbara Frittoli, was most moving with handkerchiefs at the ready as the heavenly baby boy appeared at the chapel door, beckoning.

Schicchi, played by booming master of comedy, Alessandro Corbelli, was highly enjoyable. Not a single detail was lost from the brilliant libretto and many new details added. These included an adjoining bathroom where the youngest Donati suddenly had to relieve himself (and subsequently flush the chain to the score). The (visible) bath also doubled as a repository for Buoso’s body.

I was delighted to find that the Met has finally taken my advice and installed subtitles in other languages (German and Spanish so far) for all new productions this season.

Was it enjoyable? Yes, sure. Each of the pot-boilers was beautifully sung, some especially so: Perche non m’ami piu?; ‘Nostalgia’ duetto; Senza mama; Oh mio babbino caro; Firenze e come un albero fiorito. The program denotes 9 principal roles yet there are at least another 9 smaller solo roles, all well acquitted.

The orchestra played well under Mr Levine who took things on the slow side at times, usually to good effect. The sets, costumes and direction were effective and original. A roar of applause occurred as the 4 progenitors appeared at curtain call.

Opening night had a few hitches, timing being one of them. Each intermission was about 10 minutes longer than planned and the evening went on until 12.20am. Some of the stage sets and machinery creaked and clunked at times. The stage elevator used at the end seemed to take a false start but then operated to brilliant effect, taking us from a cavernous bed-sit boudoir to an expansive balcony showing us the entire Tuscan skyline, centered on the tower of Giotto and Duomo dome of Brunelleschi. I don’t know why the curved centre balustrade was green.

Comments by Andrew Byrne ..