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The Adulteress, the Nun & the Impostor

Gran Teatre del Liceu
11/27/2022 -  & November 29, December 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15*, 2022
Giacomo Puccini: Il trittico
Il tabarro: Lise Davidsen (Giorgietta), Brandon Jovanovich (Luigi), Ambrogio Maestri (Michele), Valeriano Lanchas (Il Talpa), Pablo García‑López (Il Tinca), Mireia Pintó (La Frugola), Marc Sala (Song Seller), Ruth Iniesta, Iván Ayón‑Rivas (Lovers)
Suor Angelica: Ermonela Jaho (Suor Angelica), Daniela Barcellona (La Zia Principessa), María Luisa Corbacho (The Abbess), Mireia Pintó (The Monitress), Marta Infante (The Mistress of the Novices), Mercedes Gancedo (Suor Genovieffa), Carolina Fajardo (Suor Osmina), Berna Perles (Suor Dolcina), Laura Vila (The nursing sister), Mar Morán (A novice), Alexandra Zabala, Raquel Lucena, Elizabeth Maldonado, Elisabeth Gillming (The alms and lay sisters)
Gianni Schicchi: Ambrogio Maestri (Gianni Schicchi), Daniela Barcellona (Zita), Ruth Iniesta (Lauretta), Iván Ayón‑Rivas (Rinuccio), Marc Sala (Gherardo), Berna Perles (Nella), Pau Armengol (Betto di Signa), Stefano Palatchi (Simone), David Oller (Marco), Mireia Pintó (La Ciesca), Luis López Navarro (Maestro Spinelloccio), Tomeu Bibiloni (Ser Amantio di Nicolao), Joy Sánchez/Clara Feliu/Conrad Font/Vega Torres (Gherardino), Miquel Rosales/Plamen Papazikov (Pinellino), Gabriel Diap/Dimitar Darlev (Guccio)
Cor Infantil de l’Orfeó Català, Glòria Coma I Pedrals (director), Coro del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Pablo Assante (director), Orquesta Sinfónica del Gran Teatre del Liceu, Susanna Mälkki (conductor)
Lotte de Beer (stage director), Bernhard Hammer (set designer), Jorine van Beek (costumes), Alex Brok (lighting)

(© David Ruano)

What a rare delight to see a complete Il trittico at a time when most often Gianni Schicchi is seen coupled with Suor Angelica, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole, Zemlinsky’s A Florentine Tragedy, or another one‑act opera. Of course, mounting a complete Il trittico is a most challenging endeavor, necessitating the casting of six lead singers and over a dozen smaller roles. Il tabarro is the least‑performed of the three operas, as it demands a dramatic soprano for the role of Giorgietta and a dramatic tenor for Luigi. Moreover, the sets require no less than a barge on the Seine – so much more demanding than the intimate scenes in Gianni Schicchi’s bedroom or in Suor Angelica’s convent.

I must however admit that seeing the three short operas together, as written and intended by Puccini, is the only true way of experiencing the work. This was evident in Lotte de Beer’s staging, emphasizing the ever‑present spectre of death in all three. By opening Il tabarro with the funeral of Giorgietta and Michele’s baby, we are immediately placed in a tragic atmosphere of loss and grief. While dramatically incongruous, as it’s unlikely Giorgietta would have taken a lover while nursing a sick child, the dramatic liberty taken is acceptable as it puts us in a lugubrious atmosphere, setting the stage for the impending murders.

The sets for all three works centered around a tunnel‑shaped stage, most evident and most effective in Il tabarro, as well as a revolving circular component, set horizontally. The tunnel‑shaped stage accentuated the angst of the first opera. It also symbolized the passage from life to death. The revolving circular set was used to reveal the corpse of Luigi to the adulterous Giorgietta with a grotesque and highly effective touch of grand‑guignol.

The minor character roles like Il Tinca, Il Talpa and Frugola were so masterfully portrayed that despite their brevity, they remained all‑important. Most touching was the drunkard stevedore Il Tinca who as a cuckold husband senses Giorgietta’s infidelity with subtly perceptive looks and disgruntled airs. Norwegian dramatic soprano Lise Davidsen impressed as Giorgietta. Though her diction in Italian was wanting, she nonetheless managed to portray this anguished woman most convincingly. As for her voice, one can only dream of such a terrifically huge instrument. Her lover Luigi, American spinto tenor Brandon Jovanovich, portrayed a boorish yet fragile working class man. His voice was not sufficiently italianate, but his high notes were secure and his stage presence overwhelming. Ambrogio Maestri, who also played Schicchi, is more appropriate for the latter comic role. Nonetheless, he was a sufficiently menacing Michele. The final scene, in which he murders the lover Luigi and then his wife, was blood-curdling in true verismo spirit.

Suor Angelica opens with Mother Superior shaving Angelica’s head. Though nowhere in the libretto, this act of humiliation is intended to put us in a certain mood. This castigation would likely be the fate of a nun inappropriately reveling in her beauty or taking too much pride in her luscious hair (though unseen under her head cover!). Perhaps it’s merely what’s done to a proud aristocrat on entering the convent, for having broken the sacraments of the time. However, the opera takes place seven years after Angelica’s disgrace (having a child out of wedlock) and her admission to the convent. Therefore, this is merely anti‑Catholic overkill by the stage director. However, it effectively and immediately introduced the public to the broken Angelica.

No matter what flaws were committed by de Beer, Suor Angelica was dramatically the strongest of the three short operas, thanks to the amazing Ermonela Jaho. No present-day soprano comes close to her mastery in this role. Her natural acting talent, combined with an excellent timbre and impeccable technique, make her irresistible. From beginning to end, we are mesmerized. I rarely cry at the opera, but she moved me to tears each time she was onstage. Daniela Barcellona, as her imperious aunt Zia Principessa, was impressive. Mostly known for her Rossini trousers roles, this Italian contralto impressed with her subtle acting. Most often, the Princess is portrayed as a vicious monster. This exaggeration reduces the pathos of the dramatic encounter. By portraying a more humane aunt, her harsh reproaches to Angelica, with emphasis on words like “penitenza” (penance) and “spiare” (expiate), lended the scene huge intensity.

The smaller roles of the Mother Superior and especially Suor Genoveva were brilliantly portrayed by María Luisa Corbache and Mercedes Gancedo respectively. Unlike most Suor Angelicas, Jaho portrayed a strong‑willed nun. The confrontation with the aunt was wild: turning over the chair and table, even threatening to strike her aunt with her own walking stick! Jaho’s interpretation of the famous aria “Senza mamma” was memorable. Angelica’s suicide upon learning of her child’s death was dramatically supreme despite the heavy handedness of the stage direction. After realizing she has committed a mortal sin, Angelica is in deep remorse, and the libretto has her envisage the Virgin Mary and her own child as a sign of Divine forgiveness. Instead, her vision is of a huge illuminated cross, replete with Virgin Mary and a reborn Angelica, her body double. The Virgin Mary then exits, and the cross, bearing the “new” Angelica, rotates using the revolving circular set. Sadly though, the prop seemed borrowed from a low‑end televangelist show. Had it not been for Jaho’s intensity, this finale would have inspired boos, not the intense bravos received the night I witnessed the production.

Gianni Schicchi is the public’s favourite of the three operas. It’s also a rare comedy among Puccini’s works. As it takes place in Renaissance Florence, the costumes were unquestionably the most beautiful of the production. However, this could not be said of the sets. A mere bed is quite modest for the bedroom of a rich Florentine merchant. Given that the beauty of Florence is repeatedly alluded to in the text, a window overlooking the Arno would have greatly helped. As for the revolving circular device, it was used to conjure a duplicate bed and a corpse hanging upside down above Buoso Donati’s bed. Yes, it alluded to an impending trick, but it didn’t really work.

Again, success was achieved thanks to the excellent lead singers and the singers/actors in the many small but important roles. Of special note was Daniela Barcellona as Zita. One could sense the fastidiousness of her character thanks to her small gestures and protestations. Also notable was Stefano Palatchi as Simone, perfectly portraying the haughty and pompous relative. In the role of Rinuccio, Peruvian tenor Iván Ayón‑Rivas had just the right light lyric tenor voice for the role. In the role of Lauretta, Ruth Iniesta was adequate in the famous aria “O mio Babbino caro.” Her voice is unfortunately rather small, unable to project in such a huge theatre.

Ambrogio Maestri excelled in the title role thanks to his natural comic verve. His hilarious dictation of Buoso Donati’s Last Will & Testament was memorable. The public was subjected to another manifestation of de Beer’s gratuitous bad taste: one of Donati’s relatives spilled the contents of the dying man’s bedpan on her dress while searching for his Will. Another relative is interrupted while relieving himself by a knock on the door, remaining in his underpants for the rest of the opera. The text of Gianni Schicchi is witty enough to refrain from such vulgarity, played unnecessarily for cheap laughs.

Finnish conductor Susanna Mälkki led the Liceu’s orchestra with great panache, magnificently bringing to life the elaborate colours and textures of Puccini’s deftly constructed orchestration, especially in Suor Angelica and some memorable passages of Il tabarro. The real triumph of this production was the incredibly high quality of the singers, both in leading and less major roles. Lise Davidsen and Ermonela Jaho were truly marvelous. The pleasure of hearing two of today’s best singers in the same performance was almost too good to be true!

Ossama el Naggar



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