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Reflections on Il Trittico

January 07, 2014

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    January 07, 2014
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    Opera Carolina News

Reflections on Il Trittico

Why is Il Trittico rarely performed? And even when performed it is usually by major companies, primarily in Europe? And why is it more often than not cannibalized, pairing the comedy Gianni Schicchi with the tragedy Pagliacci; or the tragedy Suor Angelica with the equally tragic Cavalleria Rusticana?

These questions are on my mind as we prepare for Opera Carolina's first-ever production of these three, one-act operas that Puccini wove together into an evening first heard at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918.

First, the easy question. Why are the triplets of Puccini's fertile imagination often separated at birth, like unwanted orphans? Primarily it is because we can. Each opera is so distinct, i.e., not relying on the others for their story line, musical personality, dramatic impact, that it is easy for ‘creative' impressarios, conductors and directors to decide, "Wouldn't it be interesting to pair Suor Angelica with something else?". And in an age when artistic decisions are driven by box office demands it is tempting to take the popular Pagliacci and have a shotgun wedding with Il Tabarro.

The distinctness of Puccini's creativity in Il Trittico, while being an incentive to separate the triplets, is also its strength. Puccini, ever the master of theater and music, takes the audience on three journeys to three distinct ends, as opposed to say Turandot which, over it's three acts, takes us on a single journey.

The other problem, which is also a strength of Il Trittico, is that each of these works is intimate. We do not have the big crowd scene of Tosca and La Fanciulla del West. Instead, we have small stories about interesting people, which demands a nuance of performance, and a strength that is not as overt as the catharsis of La Boheme. Puccini wants us to become invested in these characters in a way that is far more subtle than in his great trio - La Boheme, Tosca, Madama Butterfly. This subtlety unfortunately escapes the grasp of most audiences.

These points plus a few more bring us to the first question: Why is Il Trittico rarely performed? Fear! Fear of rejection or boredom by audiences that won't take the time to learn the stories, or who are waiting for the next big tune. Fear that Il Trittico is itself a difficult title to sell - marketing 101 - if you have to spend most of your time explaining what the product is, it won't sell. Fear that the Board of Directors will fire the impresario who dares to program it.

So, why is Opera Carolina producing Il Trittico for the first time? Because it is important to ask our audiences to open themselves to new experiences in the opera house. Because it is important we be an opera company, not simply a poor reflection of Broadway, always producing the blockbusters. Because we hope that before coming to the theater for Il Trittico (and I hope everyone who attended Madama Butterfly last time will come to Il Trittico), you will listen to at least O mio babbino caro and read the synopses of Puccini's often orphaned triplets, and discover something new and wonderful in this first-ever production by your opera company.