Racette, Blythe, Licitra, Lucic, Corbelli, Pirgu / Ranzani
(Trying to keep this short, because like apparently everyone else I know I'm going to Elektra tonight.)
This was a satisfying revival of Puccini's triptych, certainly better than the 2007 premiere at which Jack O'Brien ducked his director's bow like a coward. Even not in pristine voice (though I think she just doesn't have that top note for the Suor Angelica climax), Patricia Racette brought a life and theatrical presence to the soprano leads as her predecessors really had not. It wasn't quite the electrifying success one might have wanted, but not every night gets there.
In Tabarro, tenor Salvatore Licitra was as energetic as usual (as he was in stealing the show at the premiere) in verisimo, but also not in strongest voice. Meanwhile Željko Lucic's habit of downplaying the harsh, baritone-villain element of his characters has a more interesting effect here than it does in Verdi operas: paired with a more emotionally subtle than usual Giorgetta in Racette, their relationship as a couple takes on a surprising realism. Of course, with his (mostly) less-than-brutal jealousy a certain impact is lost, though as always listening to Lucic's voice is a pleasure.
Suor Angelica was well-sung -- by Racette, force-of-nature Stephanie Blythe, and the rest of the habit-clad cast -- but the all-too-literal appearance of the child at the end looks as schlocky as ever, and after the excellent singing this time is even more jarring. I don't think I'll ever be able to enjoy this opera in this production.
Finally, Gianni Schicchi revealed a really promising new singer: Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu, whose house debut was in this run. Time will tell whether Pirgu has the endurance and variety of sound to triumph in a full night's role, but as Rinuccio he was near-ideal. More, please. I think I'm finally warming up to Alessandro Corbelli's self-effacing Schicchi (though the opposite would certainly be welcome), and the piece also brought conductor Stefano Ranzani's best work: detailed and lively here, where in the previous installments he was detailed and perhaps insufficiently visceral.
I'm always a bit perplexed when I hear the not-so-rare sentiment that more opera these days should be in the verisimo mold. The general formula -- "low" setting plus extreme emotional outcries -- does its best to make its characters into slaves of their outsized (often near-pathological) desires (a view of humanity also seen in later, more self-conscious forms of modernist work -- see, as its greatest operatic example, Berg's Lulu). But man is more than a tortured beast, or strives to be so, and as characters in story even more so: stories began with divine (or quasi-divine) protagonists and it is a very late thing indeed that this has been forgotten enough to make a "realist" or "veristic" goal seem plausible or even natural. And so as Trittico moves forward in its realization of man's godly aspect -- first as religious longing and frenzy, then with the thorough divine laughter that even breaks the fourth wall -- it moves (in Puccini's original settings) backward in time, from the 20th century to the 17th to the 13th, closer and closer to the liberating first truths of story. Puccini, fortunately, could not be a verist for long. (Which, incidentally, is why Mimi's imagination is so crucial.)