Friday, October 3, 2008

PUCCINI ThreeSome


I was fortunate to experience the new production of IL TRITTICO just before it concluded its run at the Los Angeles Opera. Puccini’s relatively rare triptych of one-act operas was co-directed by film directors William Friedkin (Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica) and Woody Allen (Gianni Schicchi).

Only in LA.

The first two one-acters were staged in a fairly traditional mode, the Parisian Seine-side setting of Tabarro being especially impressive as it cinematically passed from sunset to darkness in the course of the tragic one-acter.

Allen’s Schicchi, Puccini’s only comic opera, was an up-date that transposed the original renaissance characters into a kind of retro Rossellini comic neo realist mode (if you can imagine) with Schicchi himself apparently a smarmy Mafioso don. Schicchi’s daughter, Lauretta, here visualized as a hot Mafia moll, looked like if anyone was thrown off the Ponte Vecchio she would be doing the throwing.

And after long lines at the lobby bar during the two intermission by the third act the audience was actually clapping along with the accordion music Allen had added as a none-Puccini Main Title sequence with ludicrous Italian credits on a drop-down movie screen before the actual opera began

James Conlon presided over the considerable forces (including a large international cast) needed to mount this elaborate work that ultimately clocked in a four and a half hours with the two intermissions.

I recall having seen TRITTICO many years ago in Philadelphia but I only really knew the score’s greatest hit, “O Mio Babbino Caro” (aka the theme from ROOM WITH A ROOM), and had actually performed it with my friend, Dianna Burdick, the previous Saturday evening.

Otherwise I deliberately eschewed any homework on TRITTICO and so was able to approach the evening with fresh ears. I was impressed with how well the libretto (or libretti) worked dramatically. I even found the essentially static Suor Angelica quite moving, wondering how the Catholic-suffused work was going to deal with the suicide of the heroine. I admit to being quite relieved (and moved) when the Virgin descended from on high, arms spread in benign forgiveness for the distraught (and dead) Angelica.

Unfortunately during the much-anticipated Schicchi I was frequently distracted by the blinding reflection of a spotlight in an on-stage mirror that focused so directly at my particular seat in the 12th row that I was barely able to read the super titles. Relief came only when someone in the cast passed in front of the mirror or the spotlight. Fortunately, due to Allen’s frenetic staging, this did happen frequently.

The opening Tabarro (The Cloak) was atmospheric verismo melodrama and for me the most engaging third of the trio. TRITTICO was composed during World War I. Throughout, but especially in Tabarro, you could discern the compositional influences of early 20th century, notably Debussy and the impressionists, and even Stravinsky. (Having just played the lush parallel triads of “Babbino” I was especially aware of the Debussy influence).

All in all another memorable and unique production from the innovative Los Angeles Opera. I only wish I could also have seen their also current production of Howard Shore’s THE FLY. In spite of lukewarm reviews, FLY seemed like another fascinating production in the mode of LAO’s production of GRENDEL – Transcendence of the Great Big Bad, by another composer who has worked in films, Elliot Goldenthal, and which I enjoyed in a previous season.

No comments: