Monday, December 21, 2009

Racette Soaring Angelica

I made it to New York for an unexpected and most needed trip (not without trial and a little tribulation due to an equally unexpected blizzard in Maine). Though mostly unexpected with mostly last minute decision tickets, I could not have planned a better time! The penultimate performance of this trip came Saturday afternoon at the final performance of glorious Jack O’Neil production of Puccini’s “Il Trittico,” starring my favorite soprano, Patricia Racette in the three female roles. I was gifted with these tickets and took a friend who otherwise would have also been able to attend. Needless to say, the afternoon was one of pure, verismo magic!

The day found Ms. Racette electrifying both in voice and manner, with no problems being heard at any point in any of the three operas. (As opposed to some comments from those who heard it on the radio, there was neither strained or pitch problems in any of the heroines). This was singing of such blazing intensity that it was, at times, almost too much to take in – so keenly invested was the artist with her art.

Being the final performance I believe Racette may have taken risks she otherwise would not have – (hardly the first singer to do this) and perhaps even pushed a couple of spots as Angelica which may not have had the same effect on the air as in the house where she inhabited the role to a level I’ve rarely encountered. The second half of the opera was so personal as to be almost unbearable to watch, as though one were voyeuristically spying on someone’s most private moments. The resultant effect finding folk sniffling, and sobbing much earlier than the usual spot in this profoundly touching opera.

The moment Angelica inquired of her son there was a combination of body language, face and voice that overwhelmed. (The woman in front of me actually lurched forward in a sort of spontaneous, convulsive sob/moan she had no control over.) This occurred even before “Senza Mama” which found Racette pouring on the emotion yet also pouring out her liquidy, wet sound with exquisite phrasing and holding all before her breathless. Though giving her all, there was no doubt this unique artist was more than up to the challenge and met it head on. The final 10 minutes of this Angelica became one of those experiences when one knows they’re witnessing something not only special but unique. By the final curtain, it was clear 4,000 others were having a similar reaction. When the curtain rose to reveal Racette’s Angelica alone on the stage, the house erupted into truly grand and prolonged ovations.

Surprisingly, after such a harrowing reading, Racette seemed utterly refreshed, composed and relaxed offering us a thoroughly delightful, Lauretta, gorgeous of sound, in a touchingly comic “O mio babbino caro” and with still enough “oomph” to easily launch up to the high D flat with the thoroughly charming Rinnucio of tenor Saimir Pirgu in the final duet of the opera.

But this Trittico was far, far more than merely a soprano’s hat trick – it was a completely wonderful afternoon of operatic theatre, strongly directed and with attention to details of relationships as vivid as any non-opera theatre I can think of and offering major performances by a number of outstanding singers, all of whom were rewarded by a large and thunderous ovations for their efforts.

Zeljko Lucic’s Michele, which felt (to me) limited in its dynamics at the prima was a richly nuanced and heartbreaking performance, the duet and scene before “Nulla silenzio” that of a man in his last herculean desperate attempt to keep his wife’s love. It’s nice to see an audience react to the tragedy of all the characters. Salvatore Licitra sounded (to me) better with a bad cold than
he has on many other occasions.

Stephanie Blythe in all three operas was a force of nature. As Frugola the relationship she had with Giorgietta was deeper and much more complex than I’ve ever seen in this opera; their farewell, a truly heartwarming exchange between close friends. Each of the three operas enjoyed many moments of this level of detail that raised the level of intensity and increased one’s
enjoyment of the drama (or comedy, as the case may be). Her Principessa offered a volcanic-like liquidity that matched the characters intensity, frustration and personal agony. The confrontation with her niece, no mere stagey struggle of wills but two opposing forces each coming away from it far worse for the wear. Her Zita nearly stole the show with that incredible voice meeting Puccini’s comic challenges squarely on (though never letting Zita think these moments were "comic.") She was hilarious!

Jennifer Check, offered a sweet take as Sister Dolcina, and came up to Blythe’s level as Nella in “Schicchi” and Patricia Risley should have her own sitcom!

Alessandro Corbelli repeated his charming, thoroughly engaging (and almost overly wise) Schicchi – causing much roaring from the audience. What a gem of a performance his was!

I’m not seeking to cause an endless argument nor am I disputing anyone else’s experiencing the broadcast as a “disaster” but as I have not yet seen a single comment from anyone actually AT the performance, felt the record here should reflect at least one attendee’s point of view.

Racette is certainly a singer to divide audiences leaving very few sitting on the fence. Some of my closest and most respected music-loving friends cannot abide her singing AT ALL – while others (like myself) fall into swoons at nearly everything she does – the intensity and radiance that comes from her work, particularly in Janacek and Puccini, the composer’s who speak to her the most. So all-in-all a glorious afternoon of ensemble singing in three masterpieces – but we all know who the stars were: Racette and Puccini!