Giacomo Puccini’s Il Trittico (The Triptych), an unusual omnibus of three one-act operas, will be presented by Berkeley Opera this Saturday and Sunday and Feb. 2 and 6 at Julia Morgan Theater, sung in Italian with English supertitles.
Seldom performed either separately or—as the composer intended—together, these three unrelated, fully self-contained short operas (“Il Tabarro,” “Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicci”) make a combined program of just under three hours, “slightly trimmed” by the company.
“It’s really three entirely different operas—albeit short ones—in one performance,” said Jonathan Khuner, artistic director of Berkeley Opera. He is also, with Jason Sherbundy and Rafal Klopotowski, in charge of musical and stage director of this production.
“Puccini invested each opera with a completely unique atmosphere and its own high-tension drama,” Khuner said. “[He] deliberately set out to construct a different type of evening, partly because the stories ... intrigued him [yet weren’t] of sufficient scope for a full evening. Puccini was one composer who chose compression over the Italian tradition of expanding slim stories to full evenings.”
“Il Tabarro,” a dark tale of murder, tells of the sullen jealousy of barge-owner Michele over the presumed infidelity of his country-girl wife Giorgetta, as his men unload the barge against the backdrop of a Paris sunset. Giorgetta is in fact awaiting her lover Luigi, one of the hired hands, after Michele retires—the tryst to be signaled by lighting a match. Duana Demus, John Minagro, Benjamin Bongers, Patrice Houston, Piet van Allen, John Milagro and William Pickersgill are the cast.
“Suor Angelica,” a moving religious experience of life and death, is the tale of a young woman who left her wealthy family to join a convent, where she pines for her relatives.
When her rich aunt comes to announce her younger sister’s wedding, Angelica’s happiness is swept away by revelations of shame and tragedy. Mortal desperation—and the fear of mortal sin—are succeeded by a miraculous sense of grace. Jillian Khuner, Fabienne Wood and Heather McFadden perform.
“Gianni Schicchi,” a satirical celebration of wit, has the title character vocally impersonating an already dead man making a new will at the behest of a miserly family, so that the estate won’t go to charity—and Gianni gives a more than eloquent testament. It’s sung by Jo Vincent Parks, Ayelet Cohen, Brian Thorsett, Katherine Daniel and Linda Blum.
Using creative backdrop projections by Jeremy Knight with spare staging, Khuner said, “Berkeley Opera’s intimate style of presentation can get closer to Puccini’s true intentions for dramatic effect than can a large company. We avoid the larger-than-life stances and vocal exaggerations.”
He said, “People consider the grand Italian operatic style, but Puccini was against any exaggeration. His notation was very precise in suggesting the amount of nuance necessary to give a rich and vivid portrayal of his characters’ experiences. There is no overarching theme in the stories, but there is an underlying continuity in [Puccini’s] attachment to ‘telling the story’ line by line, scene by scene, with a minimum of reflection or out-of-frame vocal delivery.”
Berkeley Opera has a commitment to producing lesser-known operas by well-known composers, Khuner says.
“My philosophy for Berkeley Opera has always been to give our audience an alternative,” he said. “When a major opera house does unusual repertoire, it is often a vehicle for a particular star singer, or variety for variety’s sake. We can focus on [these works] for their own sake.”