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Gritty and Witty and Bright

Colny Theatre, Miami Beach
07/13/2013 -  & July 14*, 2013
Giacomo Puccini: Il Tabarro – Gianni Schicchi
Nelson Martinez (Michele), Philip Alongi (Luigi), Maryann Mootos (Giorgetta), Lisette Jimenez (Frugola, Zita), Enrique Estrada (Talpa, Betto), Jared Peroune (Tinca, Gherardo), Alejandro Vera (Song Seller), Richard Cassell (Gianni Schicchi), Rebekah Diaz (Lauretta), David Pereira (Rinuccio), Daisy Su (Nella), Eric Dobkin (Simone), Ismael Gonzalez (Marco), Kitty Delgado (La Ciesca), Javier Acosta (Gherardino), Maria Cassell (Spinellino), Gabriel Menendez (Armanto di Nicolao), Sergio Gonzalez (Pinello), Pablo Hernendez (Guccio)
Miami Lyric Opera Chorus, Pablo Hernandez (chorus master), Miami Lyric Opera Orchestra, Doris Lang Kosloff (conductor)
Raffaele Cordone (director), Nelso Guerrero, Raffaele Cardone & Stivanello (scenic design), Stivanello (costume design), Gary Lund (lighting design)

M. Mootos & N. Martinez (Courtesy of Miami Lyric Opera)

Puccini's Il Trittico is always fascinating, but also taxing for both the box office and the audience. For the audience the problem is that it is a triple bill. Certainly there are many longer works in the repertoire but to have to straighten out new characters and a plot, not twice, but three times in one evening can be exhausting. So Miami Lyric Opera has done the honorable thing by giving the first and last pieces together on one program and then planning the middle section, Suor Angelica, paired with Cavalleria Rusticana later in the season.

This combination works very well, since the opening, Il Tabarro, a very intense and gruesome drama comes close to tragedy; and the finale, the similarly dark, Gianni Schicchi is funny, a very tart sorbet after the steak.

The lack of simple romance is something not uncommon for the more mature Puccini. To have Tabarro even alone (as I once experienced in a church basement many years ago) is a rewarding experience. Here Puccini got one of the most psychologically interesting librettos ever written. At first it looks like a mere Grand Guignol melodrama, but with the three leads being multi-dimensional, none completely loveable, and all deserving of sympathy, we are taken to a higher level. Later Puccini requires not just strong singing; without solid acting the punch is never going to land. Luckily for the audience, Miami Lyric Opera's trio has got what it takes. Philip Alongi's robust tenor has tremendous heart and pathos making his love for and jealousy of Giorgetta so real that it is discomfiting to watch as his inevitable doom approaches. Nelson Martinez fleshes out the many complexities of Michele's dilemma with a voice that is necessarily gruff and sweet; his confusion over the loss of his wife's affection provides the performance its most humanly pitiful moments.

But the key role to this opera is Giorgetta. Maryann Mootos' strong, yet beautifully tender soprano fearlessly confronts the conflicts and in her duets with Luigi and interaction with Frugola, Mootos unsparingly demonstrates Giorgetta's passion.

The most cheerful moments in this shocker are provided by the delightful Frugola of Lisette Jimenez. This happy woman loves life's simplicity; Jimenez invites us to join in the excitement of the gifts she has found and the love affair with her cat, thus making this woman the perfect and much needed contrast to the menace that the others thrive on.

The staging by Raffaele Cardone is always clear and unobstructed; he makes the wise decision to ignore the last stage directions which never made sense for a work so painfully human.

Compared to Gianni Schicchi, Il Tabarro must be a cinch. Comedies are much more difficult to pull off; and with so many characters this one requires direction that is clear, wallows in the irreverence yet never succumbs to vulgarity - not such an easy combination in this age when more is considered better. A light touch is what will work best here. It is hard to imagine that most non-Italians find the humor in Gianni Schicchi with their first encounter. Knowledge of the language would be quite useful; those of us who do not have a working ability benefit from some serious pre-performance study of the libretto. Reading the humorous moments on titles offers no spontaneity. Extreme hamming might help, but it also runs the danger of backfiring, making an audience even more frustrated. English translation is even worse. So to offer this one-acter is not a simple challenge.

Thankfully Miami Lyric Opera has a cast that is not threatened. Of course we must have a Schicchi in command and with Richard Cassell we get not only a very fine and strong comedian but one with a powerful and especially beautiful voice. Rebekah Diaz makes the honorable choice of actually playing Lauretta as opposed to simply tossing off one of Puccini's loveliest tunes. It is not hard to believe that she is somewhat serious about suicide if her father will not help. There were moments in the beginning when David Pereira's Rinuccio was overpowered by the orchestra but once again his sunniest of tenor voices shines through giving this work much of its good spirit. Again Cardone's blocking of the performers clears the way avoiding all possible confusion and giving the many members of the ensemble their own moments.

With this production Miami Lyric Opera takes a giant step forward in scenic design that is elegant though understated. In an evening that requires so many abrupt changes in temperament, the orchestra's achievement cannot be overstated. Miami Lyric Opera Orchestra under the direction of Doris Lang Kosloff has never been as solid.

Jeff Haller



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