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Opera Lively Review: Il Trittico by Puccini at Opera Carolina

January 19, 2014

  • date
    January 19, 2014
  • article type
    Press
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    Opera Carolina News

Opera Lively Review: Il Trittico by Puccini at Opera Carolina

Opera Carolina's courage as a regional company in staging a set of three operas with 38 singing roles, 27 chorus members, and 5 supernumeraries for a total of 70 performers on stage is remarkable. One must say that the effort paid off. The evening was largelly successful, in spite of a few quibbles.

It started relatively cold, with a Tabarro that seemed a bit pale and lacking some pizazz. Even Jill Gardner, who was the brightest star of the night, appeared somewhat uninvolved as Giorgetta, as if saving herself for the spectacular tour-de-force she delivered later on in the evening in the role of Sister Angelica. Dongwon Shin was unconvincing as Luigi and lacked chemistry with Jill, with a voice that sounded too thin and light for the role (or maybe he was just not having a good vocal night, which as we know happens to singers from time to time).

Chen-Ye Yuan as Michele was better, but the best singer in the first opera was Victor Ryan Robertson, who seemed to be into his character (Tinca) to a greater degree than his peers, displaying the most genuine and believable acting. The sets for Il Tabarro were nice but with a shortcoming; they utilized some columns and arcs that didn't look Parisian at all...but rather Italianate (unsurprisingly, since they were originally designed for the other two operas, which are set in Italy). Maybe a better solution would have been a more minimalistic approach, simply doing away with those arcs and columns, and keeping just the barge with the Notre Dame background. Maybe this is nitpicking, but the supertitles translator rendered the Italian word sgualdrina as 'unfaithful,' when 'whore' (which is what the word means) would have had more impact.

The pit wasn't responsible for the lack of colors: maestro Meena as usual lead the fine Charlotte Symphony by memory, and beautifully rendered Puccini's intricate score for Il Tabarro with its rich tone painting. It was on the stage that things didn't seem to click, although they did improve in the second half of the opera, thanks to a well performed final scene between Jill and Chen-Ye Yuan. Still, applause was subdued.

Given that Il Tabarro is my favorite Trittico opera, by its end I was a bit apprehensive for the quality of the evening. I didn't need to be, because as soon as as the second opera rolled in, the stage caught fire. Jill Gardner was simply phenomenal as the tortured nun, both vocally and in her acting.

Her pungent and fierce performance and her purity of tone drew oohs and aahs from the audience, and some tears. Susan Nicely was just as good as La Principessa, and the confrontation scene between the two women was a thing of beauty, and the best I've seen for this opera. The scenery matched much better the place and time (OK, now those Italianate arcs and columns came in handy), and the final scene was wonderful: I had goosebumps when the central doors of the convent opened up to show a luminous live statue of the Virgin Mary, who opened her arms to let out Angelica's son.

Kimberly Butler was a fine Sister Genovieffa, and the maestro and his orchestra played sublime sounds. The frenetic standing ovation at the end was arguably the most intense I've seen at Opera Carolina. It was a remarkable performance. I used to hold Suor Angelica, the opera, in low esteem. Well, I changed my mind, and in great measure thanks to Jill Gardner. I had the pleasure of meeting this fine artist again in the after-party, and she was very pleased with the audience's reaction. Jill was justifiably elated with what she had just done - her first Suor Angelica, as close to perfect as it gets. It is not every day that you see the audience being delirious about Suor Angelica, which in spite of having been Puccini's favorite, is often neglected by the Tabarro and Schicchi-loving public. Well, not this time. This Angelica was the high point of the evening.

Gianni Schicchi was also very well presented by Opera Carolina. The scenery was even more beautiful despite using the same set-up, but with some more lively details. Costumes and wigs were great.

Chen-Ye Yuan who was just correct as Michele, was much better as Schicchi. Susan Nicely, the only singer in all three operas, was again extremely good, with great comedic flair. Theatrical aspects such as acting and blocking were of high quality in the third opera, with interesting touches that demonstrated good stage direction by Mr. Lesenger (such as the hilarious silent mouthing of the will by Zita). Melinda Whittington sang a beautiful 'O mio babbino caro.'

Charles Lang was a very funny doctor, and another good comprimario was Daidree Tofano as La Ciesca. Victor again did well, with his voice being well suited to the tessitura of the Rinuccio role. Applause for Schicchi, while not as wild as for Angelica, was still very intense, and confirmed the audience's satisfaction with the production.

After a slow start, Opera Carolina rapidly progressed to the high standards we're accustomed to expect from the company. Probably the stage director will correct the relative lack of energy by the Tabarro cast, and then the first part will be as good as the other two, in subsequent performances.

The global experience of the evening was supplemented by a delicious pre-opera dinner at a nearby wine bistro (The Wooden Wine; I recommend it; click [here], they have great tapas and excellent wines by-the-glass), with good value as part of the Charlotte Restaurant Week (a $30 prix-fix three-course meal, pictures below), and a nice after-party with the fine Mediterranean cuisine at Blue Restaurant and Bar [here], enjoying Opera Carolina's hospitality and mingling with the artists. [This is not product placement - I don't benefit from this; I'm just adding these two restaurant recommendations - both are one block from the theater - to enhance the night-out-in-town experience of our Charlotte-area readers].

I told my wife at the end: "This was as much fun as a trip to New York." She agreed - and my wife adores the Big Apple! Those at driving distance from Charlotte shouldn't miss the opportunity for a night in town being treated do great opera and to other attractions of this wonderful Southern city. There are still two more performances to go (on January 23-26), and tickets are still available.

By: Luiz Gazzola Opera Lively

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