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Puccini at San Diego Opera

Stay inside the box when at the opera.

Giacomo Puccini, not a nihilist. - Image by Public Domain
Giacomo Puccini, not a nihilist.

What was once known as Il Trittico, by Giacomo Puccini, is now being billed as The Puccini Duo by San Diego Opera. That’s probably for the best because the three one-act operas make for a long evening and I’ve never met anyone who is crazy about the first of the three, Il Tabarro.

The other two, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi also don’t get a lot of love. The chance to experience full-fledged productions doesn’t come along very often.

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The first offering was Suor Angelica. The story is about a woman who was forced to join a convent seven years prior because of her illegitimate child.

The primary issue I had with Suor Angelica was a directorial decision to change the end of the opera from absolution to hysteria. At the end of the opera, Angelica finds out that her son died two years ago. She is devastated and creates a poison for herself so she can be reunited with her son in death.

Angelica realizes, too late, that taking one’s own life is a mortal sin. She pleads with the Virgin Mary to be gracious and to give her a sign that she will not be damned. The sign Angelica receives is a vision of her son and the Virgin washed in heavenly light.

Apparently, the end that Puccini created doesn’t work and needs to be changed for modern audiences. Anything that is modified for modern audiences usually sucks and is full of contrivances.

In this case, a solitary child sneaks into the ward with Angelica and goes to bed. As she is dying, the boy comes over and Angelica mistakes him for her son and grabs the boy in her hysteria. The boy pushes her away and runs off stage. Angelica dies without any sign of grace from the Virgin Mary, or The Universe, or her subconscious mind or Vishnu, or Yahweh, or Zarathustra, or whatever.

This decision marred an otherwise essential moment of opera delivered by soprano Marina Costa-Jackson. I was blown away by Cotsa-Jackson’s dramatic abilities and I squeezed out a tear or two as the opera concluded–in spite of the nihilism.

Video:

Jacob's Ladder - ending

The 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder got it right. At the conclusion of the movie, the dying father is comforted by an angelic version of his dead son. It is a powerful and moving image that San Diego Opera decided wasn’t worth presenting in Suor Angelica.

The second opera, Gianni Schicchi would have been a wonderful experience had it been cast correctly. When I heard that Stephanie Blythe was performing the title role, I assumed she had the notes in her voice to present a convincing character. She does not. Half the role was washed out by the orchestra and the other singers. The notes that were audible sounded bizarre. The brash and audacious Schicchi came off as sniveling and conniving.

I guess I can give San Diego Opera credit for trying to get outside the box but sometimes the inside of the box is sufficient in and of itself. If I were to give this night of opera a rating, I would give it 6.5 out of 10 because of the dramatic commitment and truly operatic singing of Marina Costa-Jackson.

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Giacomo Puccini, not a nihilist. - Image by Public Domain
Giacomo Puccini, not a nihilist.

What was once known as Il Trittico, by Giacomo Puccini, is now being billed as The Puccini Duo by San Diego Opera. That’s probably for the best because the three one-act operas make for a long evening and I’ve never met anyone who is crazy about the first of the three, Il Tabarro.

The other two, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi also don’t get a lot of love. The chance to experience full-fledged productions doesn’t come along very often.

Sponsored
Sponsored

The first offering was Suor Angelica. The story is about a woman who was forced to join a convent seven years prior because of her illegitimate child.

The primary issue I had with Suor Angelica was a directorial decision to change the end of the opera from absolution to hysteria. At the end of the opera, Angelica finds out that her son died two years ago. She is devastated and creates a poison for herself so she can be reunited with her son in death.

Angelica realizes, too late, that taking one’s own life is a mortal sin. She pleads with the Virgin Mary to be gracious and to give her a sign that she will not be damned. The sign Angelica receives is a vision of her son and the Virgin washed in heavenly light.

Apparently, the end that Puccini created doesn’t work and needs to be changed for modern audiences. Anything that is modified for modern audiences usually sucks and is full of contrivances.

In this case, a solitary child sneaks into the ward with Angelica and goes to bed. As she is dying, the boy comes over and Angelica mistakes him for her son and grabs the boy in her hysteria. The boy pushes her away and runs off stage. Angelica dies without any sign of grace from the Virgin Mary, or The Universe, or her subconscious mind or Vishnu, or Yahweh, or Zarathustra, or whatever.

This decision marred an otherwise essential moment of opera delivered by soprano Marina Costa-Jackson. I was blown away by Cotsa-Jackson’s dramatic abilities and I squeezed out a tear or two as the opera concluded–in spite of the nihilism.

Video:

Jacob's Ladder - ending

The 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder got it right. At the conclusion of the movie, the dying father is comforted by an angelic version of his dead son. It is a powerful and moving image that San Diego Opera decided wasn’t worth presenting in Suor Angelica.

The second opera, Gianni Schicchi would have been a wonderful experience had it been cast correctly. When I heard that Stephanie Blythe was performing the title role, I assumed she had the notes in her voice to present a convincing character. She does not. Half the role was washed out by the orchestra and the other singers. The notes that were audible sounded bizarre. The brash and audacious Schicchi came off as sniveling and conniving.

I guess I can give San Diego Opera credit for trying to get outside the box but sometimes the inside of the box is sufficient in and of itself. If I were to give this night of opera a rating, I would give it 6.5 out of 10 because of the dramatic commitment and truly operatic singing of Marina Costa-Jackson.

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