JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Luigi, played by Kip Wilborn, and Giorgetta, played by Barbara Davis, share a tender moment in "Il tabarro" (The cloak), part of "Il Trittico: The Trio."
Puccini threesome delights
Giacomo Puccini's "Trittico": a large work divided in three, or three operas for the price of one? Hard to decide. Either way, watching these three one-act operas in one evening is a delightful experience. "Il Tabarro," "Suor Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi" remind us of an author's short stories, a director's series of short films or paintings in a solo exhibition. Ultimately it is the composer's pen, like Michelangelo's brush in the Sistine Chapel, that shapes the unity.
"Il Trittico: The Trio"
Presented by Hawaii Opera Theatre.
When: Continues at 4 p.m. today and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
Cost: Tickets are $28 to $100
Call: 596-7858 or visit hawaiiopera.org
Friday night, Hawaii Opera Theatre's "Trittico" confirmed Puccini's famed ability to mold the audience's mood with his music, despite the diversity of subjects. Seldom performed together after the 1918 premiere, the three works portray separate dramatic atmospheres (passionate, intimate/religious and comedic), locations (a Parisian quay, a Tuscan convent and a Florentine home) and periods (early 1900s, late 1600s and 1299). They need a large and flexible cast, different stage sets and costumes, a dedicated orchestra and a clever director.
Puccini wanted them performed in one bill, but often only the third, "Gianni Schicchi," is presented, combined with other operas. Director Henry Akina understood Puccini's grand vision, and followed the maestro's wishes in a refined production of the "Trittico."
THE THEMES are the typical romantic ones: love, sin and death. So why is the outcome effective? The dramatic contrast is refreshing, the change of sets is fun and we get to see new people on stage. But why did Puccini insist on having them performed in this particular sequence?
First, in "Il Tabarro" ("The Cloak"), infidelity and jealousy lead to murder -- the ultimate Italian drama. Then, in "Suor Angelica," we know that a sin was committed before the story starts (who is the father anyway?) and redemption comes with death. Last, in "Gianni Schicchi," nobody dies (there is a dead person, but he is dead throughout the opera). So Puccini grants a happy ending to the lovers and a relief to the audience.
The sets and lighting by Peter Dean Beck are lovely. Backdrops depicting the Parisian skyline, a Tuscan monastery and the Duomo of Florence are particularly refined. The lighting -- from dim in the first, to bright but centered in the second, to clear with a bright red focus in the last -- is also well-designed.
The orchestra, under Ivan Törz's baton, played with ease the bold and often dissonant harmonies in these rather modern scores. Sometimes the beauty of the music was stronger than the stories, almost distracting us. And because these librettos are not greatly crafted, the music needs to be come forward.
THE CAST of "Il Tabarro" included baritone Jake Gardner as jealous husband Michele, soprano Barbara Divis as wife Giorgetta and tenor Kip Wilborn as the stevedore and young lover Luigi. Although they all had wonderful voices, Wilborn stood out with his "Hai ragione, meglio non pensare" when he pondered the miseries of life. His dialogue with Giorgetta after Divis' reminiscence of Belleville was the best part of the opera. Accompanied by a rich and wonderful orchestral texture, Divis voice was also superb and powerful.
The river theme and the cloak motive are quite effective. But where was the cloak? Maybe we should have seen such important prop earlier as a premonition. And when finally Michele wears it, the garment did not cover much of its secret, somehow visually disrupting the dramatic ending. Remarkable also were Wilbur Pauley as Talpa and James Price as the song vendor.
Divis also performed "Suor Angelica" splendidly. We rarely hear such power in vocal strength and emotional interpretation. Although the first part of the opera sounds like a series of Christmas songs (Puccini's choice, and really what makes the opera less popular), Divis' monologue, "Senza mamma," was terrific. There was no need to look at her. Her voice reached and touched all the audience. It was one of those memorable, tender and intense moments. But the final miracle? The entrance of Mother Mary, a scene hard to render, was a little shaky. Katherine Ciesinki as the austere aunt and Amy Healey in the role of Sister Genevieve were great support roles.
Then "Gianni": Gardner and the whole cast were brilliant, the choreography perfect and the acting really funny. The fast-moving comedy, underlined by the orchestral "cunning" motive, showcased the baritone in "Firenze è come un albero fiorito," a Tuscan "stornello" on the city and its countryside. Finally, to the audience's delight, Divis delivered a great "O mio babbino caro," a famous aria often performed in concerts.
Valeria Wenderoth has a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where she also teaches.