Wednesday, May 23, 2007



New York Metropolitan Opera Broadcast
Sunday 3rd of January 2009 at 3 - 7.10 pm
Sydney Opera House recordings
Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 8th of June 2008 at 3pm

New York Metropolitan Opera Broadcast
Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 27th of May 2007 at 3pm

PUCCINI: Il Trittico, three one-act operas
Il Tabarro
Michele......................... Zeljko Lucic
Giorgetta....................... Patricia Racette
Luigi.............................. Salvatore Licitra
Il Tinca.......................... David Cangelosi
Il Talpa......................... Paul Plishka
La Frugola.................... Stephanie Blythe
Metropolitan Opera Orch/Stefano Ranzani

Suor Angelica
Angelica........................ Patricia Racette
Princess........................ Stephanie Blythe
Abbess......................... Tamara Mumford
Monitress...................... Wendy White
Mistress of novices........ Barbara Dever
Genovieffa..................... Heidi Grant Murphy
Osmina......................... Linda Mays
Dolcina......................... Jennifer Check
Nursing Sister................ Maria Zifchak
Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orch/Stefano Ranzani

Gianni Schicchi
Gianni Schicchi.............. Alessandro Corbelli
Lauretta........................ Patricia Racette
Zita............................... Stephanie Blythe
Rinuccio........................ Saimir Pirgu
Gherardo...................... Keith Jameson
Nella............................. Jennifer Check
Betto di Signa................ Patrick Carfizzi
Simone.......................... Donato Di Stefano
Metropolitan Opera Orch/Stefano Ranzani (EBU)


Three operas for the price of one, in Puccini's Triptych (Trittico), first performed at the New York Metropolitan Opera House in 1918.

IL TABARRO (The Cloak)
LIBRETTO (Italian & English)
LIBRETTO (Italian & English)

Puccini finished this one-act one-hour opera in 1916, and he wanted to put it on in Rome, together with his first opera Le Villi (The Willies, the ghosts of brides who died before they were married, as in Giselle; and Le Villi is described as an opera-ballet in two acts). His wish was not granted, and so he went on to complete his triptych.

Il Tabarro is set in Paris on a barge on the Seine River in 1910. The ages of the characters constitute an important detail, so I will run through them here. Michele (French Michel), the barge-operator, is 50 years of age. His wife Giorgetta is 25; her baby has died, and in her unhappiness she has fallen in love with one of the employees on the barge, Luigi (Louis), aged 20; Giorgetta and Luigi would like to escape together and live on land in the suburbs of Paris. The musical highlight of this opera is their duet (at the halfway point) in praise of Paris.

Michele (Michel, Michael) a barge-owner aged 50 (Lucio Gallo)
Giorgetta (Georgette) his wife, 25 (Eva-Maria Westbroek)
Luigi (Louis) stevedore, her lover, 20!    Tinca 35  Talpa 55  Frugola Talpa’s wife, 50
   Paris in 1910. The Seine River. A barge is moored at a quay.
   Stevedores (wharfies) are unloading bags of cement from the barge.
   Georgette remarks on the sunset to Michel: is he not tired of watching it?   
   No smoke is coming out of his tobacco pipe. (When he lights it again havoc will ensue.)
   Georgette suggests that the workers deserve a drink of wine, and Michel agrees.
   He has renounced wine, but he still has his pipe and his passion.
   He asks her for a loving kiss; she takes it on the cheek. He goes below the deck.
   She gives them the drink. An organ-grinder provides music and she dances with Tinca; then with Louis, with evident pleasure.
   Michel returns and stops the merriment. He talks with his wife, about who he should keep on, and he is thinking of dismissing young Luigi/Louis, but she wants him to stay.
   A singer is passing by, offering his songs for money; one of them is about a woman called Mimi, who is dying (echoes of La Bohème).
   G: It’s already evening. Oh what a rosy September sunset, like a big orange in the Seine.
   They see Frugola coming to fetch her husband Talpa.
   Georgette senses Michel is in a jealous mood. He never beats her but she would prefer that to his moody silences. What is bothering you? When I am in Paris I am happy!
   Frugola collects stuff in her bag during the day, and she gives G a jewel-studded comb.
   She raves about her love affair with her cat, Corporal; she has an ox-heart for him.
   The three stevedores come up. Tinca goes off to the wine-house.
   Louis complains about  his tough life (in the style of tote that barge, lift that bale):
Bow your head and bend your back. Bread is earned by sweat, time for love is stolen.
   Frugola dreams of living in a little house in the country.
   Georgette would rather live in a suburb of Paris. She was born in Belleville, and so was Louis. Shops are lit up, and on Sundays couples go into the Bois de Boulogne.
   Here the young pair become ecstatic in a duet: Whoever leaves the suburb wants to return and never leave it. There in the midst of Paris it calls with a thousand joyful voices, with undying fascination.
   The lovers are left to commune, but Michel interrupts their ardent conversation.
   Louis asks to be dropped off at Rouen! But when told this is not a good idea, he stays.
   When they are alone together again, he explains that he can not bear to share her with him, and they become passionate with insane desires. He will come back later; she will light a match as the signal.
   Husband and wife have a serious ‘we need to talk’ meeting: Why don’t you love me any more? She protests that she does. He remembers  their  past affection, rocking the cradle of their baby (now deceased), snuggling up in his cloak (the tabarro!). His grey hair seems to be an affront to her youthfulness.       (Two romantic lovers pass by.)
   When she withdraws he calls her a slut, and he ponders over who her lover could be, focusing on his three employees; but none of them seems to fit. He lights his pipe!
   Louis appears and they fight to the death. Michel wraps the body in his cloak.
   Georgette comes out in trepidation and is subjected to horror.

The unhappy ending focuses on Michele's cloak: he strangles Luigi, and hides him under his cloak; when Giorgetta comes to say she is frightened and sorry for causing him pain, Michele opens the cloak, Luigi's body falls out, and he pushes Giorgetta's face down onto the dead man's face.

SUOR ANGELICA (Sister Angelica)
LIBRETTO (Italian)
LIBRETTO (Italian and English)

This opera is set in a seventeenth-century convent. There are no men in the cast (not even a male alto). It begins with a nun's chorus (Ave Maria), with bells.

Sister Angelica speaks of desires, but she is admonished, because they are not permitted to have desires (as they say, a nun gets none); but her wish is merely to have news of her son (she has had some, being an unmarried mother who has been locked away to conceal the family's shame). She learns from a visiting relative (who forces her to sign away her possessions to her sister, who is marrying an artistocrat) that the child is dead.

When Sister Chiara is stung by wasps, Angelica provides one of her herbal remedies. When Angelica decides she wants to go to Heaven to see her child, she boils up a poison potion for herself and drinks it; then she realizes she has committed a mortal sin, but the Blessed Virgin appears with a celestial choir, and reveals the bambino.

Suor (Sister) Angelica, The Princess (her aunt), The Abbess (Mother Superior), The Sister Monitor, The Mistress of the Novices, Sister Genevieve (Genovieffa, formerly a shepherdess), Sister Osmina (rebellious), Sister Dolcina (greedy), The Sister Infirmaress, The Questuants (Cercatrici), The Novices, The Postulants.
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (in London, of course). Conductor : Antonio Pappano. (DVD)
It is the month of May, evening in late spring. The scene is set in the interior of a convent:  church and cloister; cemetery; vegetable garden, orchard, cypresses, a cross,  fountain, grass, flowers. To see all this you will have to close your eyes, since what we are shown is a children’s hospital with nuns as nurses. (There is no glimpse of the original Convent Garden, nor any trace of the fruit and vegetables sold there in the past.)
This is how the story goes according to the book. Spot the changes!
THE PRAYER  Ave Maria. The sisters are singing in the church; two postulants are late; so is Angelica (who dutifully kisses the ground as required by regulation).
THE PENANCES  The Monitor (with the Mistress of the Novices) admonishes various miscreants, and imposes penances. Sister Lucilla laughed in the liturgy; she is sent to spin in silence, Sister Osmina had two scarlet roses up her sleeves in church; she denies it, but is sent to her cell.
THE RECREATION  Time for relaxation. Angelica tends her garden. Genevieve points out that the sun is shining through the falling water of the fountain and making it golden; it is that time of  year. Genevieve suggests they take some of the water to the grave of Sister Rose (Bianca Rosa), and the nuns think that would be Rose’s wish. But Angelica says that the dead do not have desires.
The Monitor adds that vain desires are not permitted to nuns when alive, either. Genevieve (the former shepherdess) confesses that she longs to cuddle a litle lamb again. Dolcina would like some sweets and rich food; that is the sin of gluttony!
Angelica says she has no wishes; but the nuns tell an inquiring novice that Angelica would like some news from her family; she was a rich princess and seven years ago they sent her to a nunnery for punishment; none of the nuns know why.
THE WASPS  Sister Chiara has been stung by wasps. Angelica has a herb and a flower for that. “Sister Angelica always has a good prescription made from flowers” they say, significantly.
THE ALMS SISTERS   Enter the donkey! But in this version he exits before his entry, for hygienic reasons, though the children would have been delighted to have donkey rides. The Begging Sisters bring oil, hazelnuts, walnuts, flour, cheese, lentils, eggs, butter; and berries for Dolcina.
THE VISITOR One of them reports the arrival of a carriage at the entrance, Angelica hopes it is a visitor for her, and she asks questions. It is Angelica’s princess aunt. At their meeting the woman reveals that Angelica’s younger sister is to be married, and all the inheritance (her own and Angelica’s share) should go to her. Angelica wants to know about her son; he died two years ago.  Angelica sadly signs away her inheritance.
THE GRACE (Each of the three operas in the triptych contain one aria, and here it is:
Senza mamma, o bimbo, tu sei morto. My baby, you died without your mamma.
Angelica becomes ecstatic: Grace has descended from Heaven. Her son is calling to her. She quotes what the sisters said about her readiness with prescriptions for every emergency. She takes poison snd then remembers that suicide is a mortal sin! She is damned! But the Virgin appears with Angelica’s child; the church is ablaze with light; the princess nun dies  blissfully.
Now we realize why the children’s hospital was chosen for the setting: so that a boy was available to be hugged by the grieving Angelica, thus avoiding supernatural visions and angels (Angelica is the only angelic being in sight;  nuns do the celestial voices). But there were poisons within ready reach of those children!

LIBRETTO (Italian)
LIBRETTO (Italian and English)

In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Part 1 (Inferno), where he is journeying through Hell, watching the lustful and greedy and malicious people getting their desèrts, he comes to the place of torment for impersonaters, perjurers, and counterfeiters.
"I saw two shades, pale and naked, which ran biting like a (rutting) hog released from the pigsty. One came at Capocchio and bit into the nape of his neck, then, dragging him, made his belly scrape on the solid ground. And the Aretine Griffolino, who was left trembling, said to me: ‘That goblin is Gianni Schicchi, and he goes about in a fury treating everyone else in this way’." (30:25- 33)

Gianni Schicchi is being punished for impersonation, and he must have been notorious. He was a Florentine of the Cavalcanti family, and a clever mimic. When Buoso Donati died, his son Simone suspected that his father might have left a will restoring property (acquired fraudulently) to the rightful owners. He plotted with Schicchi, who got into Buoso’s bed and dictated a new will to his lawyer, in Simone’s favour, but also bequeathing a legacy to himself, notably a famous mare known as ‘the lady of the stud’.

In Puccini’s opera, entitled Gianni Schicchi, the rogue is approached by all the relatives, who know the money will go to a monastery; he divides the wealth among them, according to their wishes, but he bequeaths the disputed properties to himself (the house, and the mills, and the mule! A mule that can breed? Not impossible.). His daughter Lauretta can now marry her beloved Rinuccio, who is a nephew of Buoso. Incidentally, the tune that is known from this short opera, is Lauretta’s entreaty: "O mio babbino caro (Oh Daddy dear)". She tells Gianni that she will jump off the Ponte Vecchio and drown herself in the river Arno if he will not take pity on her and ensure the marriage takes place. Keep that sinister point in mind next time you find yourself swooning over the aria as it comes out through the mouth of Joan Hammond (O my beloved Daddy), or Kiri Te Kanawa, or Renée Fleming, or Anna Netrebko.

Gianni Schicchi, of peasant stock, neighbour and friend of Buoso Donati, 50
Lauretta, his daughter, 21  Rinuccio, her swain and suitor, 24
Zita (La Vecchia), aunt of Rinuccio, cousin of Bozo, 60
Gherardo, nephew, 40   Nella, his wife, 34   Gherardino, their son, 7 (!)
Simone, cousin, 70   Marco, his son, 45   La Ciesca, Marco’s wife, 38   Betto di Signa (age unknown)

We are in Florence in 1299. Buoso Donati has died (though this actor, playing the most difficult and deadliest role to act) might do some fidgeting in his death-bed. The relatives have gathered to reap their rewards in Bozo’s last will and testament. All are mourning profusely. Then Betto says there is a rumour in Signa that Bozo has left everything to a monastery. All the relatives search frantically for the will.
Rinuccio finds the testament, and assuming they will all benefit from it, he asks Aunt Zita to consent to him marrying Lauretta, on May Day. Agreed, if all goes well with the wealth from the will.
Rinuccio sends little Gherardino to fetch GS and Lauretta.
When the document is opened, their suspicions are confirmed, and they mock the monks.
Zita never thought they would be weeping real tears at Buoso’s funeral! Zita does not want this upstart GS in the family, now, but Rinuccio defends him eloquently as the man for the hour.
When GS arrives and sees them so glum, he assumes that Buoso must have recovered.
Lauretta (kneeling and pleading) sings her world-famous aria (O Daddy dearest, let me marry him, or I will go to the Ponte Vecchio and throw myself into the river Arno).
He agrees and carries out a plan that produces a new will to his own benefit; and because the relatives had been complicit in the fraud they can do nothing, or they will lose a hand and be exiled.
At the end of the opera Gianni speaks to the audience, telling them that for this crazy act he was hunted into Hell (cacciato all’inferno); but with "our great father Dante’s permission" he puts in a plea of "extenuating circumstances".

In this regard I heard someone suggesting that Puccini's three pieces are counterparts to the three parts of Dante's massive poem. Il Tabarro is Hell/Inferno (just like Francesca da Rimini, whom Dante spoke to in Hell: a woman and her lover are caught and murder occurs). Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) is said to go with Purgatory, and Gianni Schicchi with Paradise.

If we are going to make this scheme work at all, then it might be better to put the nun's story in Paradise (with its heavenly vision) and give Gianni another chance, taking him out of Hell and putting him in Purgatory for a clean-up.

Be that as it may, Gianni Schicchi, Puccini's only comedy, is the one that should go last on the program, so that after the horrors of the other two we are left with a grin on our face, not a grimace.

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