Theater Reviews

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Metropolitan Opera, New York
Through May 12


NEW YORK -- The Metropolitan Opera, under the new artistic direction of Peter Gelb, continues its torrid winning streak with this superb staging of Puccini's triptych of one-act operas that have rarely been performed together at the Met since they made their debut in 1918. Directed by Broadway veteran Jack O'Brien ("Hairspray"), also on a roll with his inevitably Tony-bound production of "The Coast of Utopia," "Il Trittico" is one of the cultural highlights of the year.

Puccini's three short operas, each running less than an hour, are dramatically different in terms of style and content, though they all roughly deal with themes of death. The opener, "Il Tabarro," set in a grimy Paris dock, is a melodrama depicting the tragic ramifications of an adulterous affair between the younger wife (Maria Guleghina) of a middle-age barge owner (Juan Pons) and the handsome young stevedore (Salvatore Licitra) to whom she has turned for emotional comfort after the death of her child.

The far more austere "Suor Angelica" deals with a nun (Barbara Frittoli) who commits suicide after hearing of the death of the young son she gave up years ago, only to seek and find forgiveness at the hands of the Virgin Mother.

The third and by far most commonly seen work, "Gianni Schicchi," is an all-out farce revolving around the clever machinations of the titular character (Alessandro Corbelli) to cheat the greedy relatives of a recently deceased rich man. Its wild comic tone is briefly alleviated by the beautiful aria "O mio babbino caro" (which, thanks to its ubiquitous use in films, has become instantly familiar to even opera nonaficionados).

O'Brien's staging of these disparate works is unified by their gorgeous stage images and acute sensitivity to both the dramatic and musical demands of the material. The top-notch singers are as impressive in their acting as their vocalizing, though it would be remiss not to point out Frittoli's particularly heartbreaking performance as the desperate nun and Stephanie Blythe's virtuosic supporting turns in all three pieces.

Also noteworthy are Douglas W. Schmidt's breathtaking sets, representing a real triumph not only of design but also for the hardworking stagehands who transform them at lighting speed during the intermissions.
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