By Jim Lowe
The Lowe Down
MIDDLEBURY – Although contradicting Giacomo Puccini’s wishes, director Doug Anderson’s decision to change the order of the composer’s trilogy “Il trittico” bore fruit. He moved the farce “Gianni Schicchi” from last place to between the two tragedies, “Il tabarro” and “Suor Angelica.”
The Opera Company of Middlebury production, which opened June 2 at Town Hall Theater, may be the best all-round yet in its 14 years, with a powerful “Il tabarro” and an hilarious “Gianni Schicchi.” But it would have been tremendously difficult to face a farce after the devastating and devastatingly beautiful final “Suor Angelica” — thanks much to a Vermont soprano.
“Il tabarro (The Cape),” libretto by Giuseppe Adami, is a dramatic tale of adultery and revenge on the waterfront. Soprano Eleni Calenos delivered a brilliant and sensitive vocal performance as Giorgetta, torn between her lover, Luigi, and her husband, Michele.
Matthew Vickers was a real romantic tenor in the Italian tradition as Luigi, and Corey Crider’s deep, rich and expressive baritone gave Michele gravity. Although all three had a tendency to over-sing the 240-seat hall, this was the glorious singing that opera lovers clamor for — and the portrayals had real dimension as well.
Michael Sakir, a veteran of Opera North in Lebanon, N.H., led the fine 21-piece orchestra, including many Vermont Symphony Orchestra players, in solid and dramatically effective performances. Anderson wisely set the production in the original 1910 Paris waterfront. But what he did with “Gianni Schicchi” was wild — and wildly funny.
“Gianni Schicchi,” libretto by Gioachino Forzano based on part of Dante’s “Inferno,” was originally set in 1299 Florence. Finding that the super-wealthy Buoso Donati (David Clark, in an almost silent but hilarious performance), had left all his money to a monastery, his aristocratic but sleazy family turns to the wily Gianni Schicchi for help — and he turns the tables on them.
Anderson moved the action to Donati Tower (think Trump) on Fifth Avenue in the overdone ‘80s, with a delightfully gaudy set, complemented by Debra Anderson’s outrageous period costumes. Baritone Joshua Jeremiah delivered a richly sung and wonderfully comic performance as Schicchi.
Giving the farce unexpected dimension, moments of gloriously romantic music interrupt the laughs. Soprano Jenna Siladie, as Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta, gave brilliance and warm lyricism to “O mio babbino caro (O, my dear papa),” one of the most beautiful and recognizable arias in all of opera. Except a few moments when he pushed his voice, tenor Matt Morgan was sensitive, lyrical and romantic as Lauretta’s boyfriend Rinuccio. This was about as ridiculously funny an opera performance as one is likely to encounter anywhere.
From the ridiculous to the sublime, “Suor Angelica” is set in a 19th-century convent, and Anderson wisely didn’t mess with it. Sister Angelica hasn’t heard from her aristocratic family since she entered the convent seven years earlier, following the disgrace of bearing an illegitimate child. When she does, facing unbearable news about her son, she decides upon an unpardonable sin. But, faced with the horror of her action, Angelica seeks God’s forgiveness.
Contralto Alissa Anderson had great presence, vocally and physically, as La Principessa, Angelica’s aunt, who bears the news, as did mezzo-soprano Margaret Gawrysiak as the convent Monitress. The nuns were sung by women from the other casts. In fact, casts were seamlessly mixed and matched.
It would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful or heart-wrenchingly powerful performance as Sister Angelical than Suzanne Kantorski’s on Friday. The soprano, a Castleton native now on the world stage, began warmly using her rich sound to endear Angelica. But when tragedy ensues, it becomes palpable in Kantorski’s voice and passionate delivery. As her heart breaks, so does the audience’s — this is what makes opera the ultimate musical theater.
And Anderson’s staging of the final moments was simple — and devastating. (Angelica’s child was played by Ellis Merrill, Kantorski’s young son.)
Opera Company of Middlebury
Opera Company of Middlebury presents Giacomo Puccini’s “Il trittico (Triptych)” — “Il tabarro,” “Gianni Schicchi,” and “Suor Angelica” — June 2-10, fully staged with orchestra and English super-titles, at Town Hall Theater, 68 S. Pleasant St. in Middlebury. Remaining performances are at 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday, June 8 and 10. Tickets are $55-$80; call 802-382-9222, or go online to www.townhalltheater.org. For information, visit www.ocmvermont.org.