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Opéra Noir & Comique

Helen Corning Warden Theater
04/23/2016 -  & April 26*, 28, 30 (Philadelphia), May 3 (Haverford), 14 (Warrington), 2016
Giacomo Puccini: Il tabarro (#)
Jared Bybee (Michele), Marco Cammarota (Luigi), Piotr Buszewski (Tinca), Anthony Schneider (Talpa), Vanessa Vasquez (Giorgetta), Hannah Ludwig (Fugola), Ethan Simpson, Daniel Noyola, Jorge Espino, Anthony Whitson-Martini, Matthew White (Scaricatori), Matthew White (Venditore di canzonette), Alexandra Schenck, Alexandra Nowakowski (Minionettes), Alexandra Nowakowski (Voce di soprano), Matthew White (Voce tenorino), Alexandra Nowakowski, Matthew White (Lovers)
Giacomo Puccini: Gianni Schicchi
Nathan Milholin*/Ethan Simpson (Gianni Schicchi), Karen Barraza (Lauretta) Allegra De Vita (Zita), Alasdair Kent (Rinuccio), Matthew White (Gherardo), Meryl Dominguez (Nella), Daniel Noyola (Betto di Signa), Anthony Schneider (Simone), Alexandra Schenck (La Ciesca), Jorge Espino (Marco), Aidan Barrow (Gherardino) Anthony Martini-Whitson (Spinellochio, Ser Amanti di Nicolao), Ethan Simpson*/Piotr Buszewski (Pinellino), Piotr Buszewski (Guccio), Bob Kravitz (Buoso Donati)
Academy of Vocal Arts Orchestra, Christofer Macatsoris (#), Richard Raub (conductor)
Tito Capobianco (director)

J. Bybee (© Courtesy of AVA)

The Academy of Vocal Arts’ season closers Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi from Puccini’s Il trittico prove so musically rich that its third opera, Suor Angelica is hardly missed. Maestros Christofer Macatsoris conducts Il tabarro, the lurid story of jealously and murder, and conductor Richard Raub taking on Gianni Schicchi, Puccini’s only opera buffa. Staged by director Tito Capobianco with wit and style, he is able to maximize the effect of AVA’s intimate Helen Corning Warden Theater in a portable production that travels to suburban venues during the run. Always impressive is the ensemble esprit and range of talent among the roster of resident artists at AVA, most in the final phase of their pre-professional careers.

In Il tabarro, AVA orchestra instantly conjures the dark atmospherics and emotional intensity of Puccini’s overture as Michele captain of a freighter broods over his troubled relationship with his wife Giorgetta. They sing to each other at a distance as the ship’s crew scrambles in after their work day. Giorgetta tries to lighten the mood as she gives them wine and even dances after Michele leaves the deck. The mood changes again when one of the workers Luigi sings of the indignities of working so hard in the ship’s hold. Presently, Michele tries to find out why Giorgetta won’t sleep with him and pleads for her love, but she intimates obliquely that nothing has been the same between them since they lost their baby the year before. When she is evasive about his questions and leaves the deck, he crumbles and sings out the Italian word for slut. He knows she is cheating on him with Luigi and Puccini’s tragic denouement unfolds.

Soprano Vanessa Vasquez as Giorgetta vocally expresses the full range of conflicted emotions as a desperately unhappy wife and careless lover, with understatement and vocal control. Marco Commarata possesses a steeled stratospheric tenor suited to the intensity of Luigi. And baritone Jared Bybee rolls out the volcanic drama with memorable vocal precision and command. Soprano Hanna Ludwig lends comic relief as the scavenger Frugola, singing about cats and boas with such lusty joi de vive duet with Vasquez. Meanwhile, Macatsoris makes this an orchestral narrative with such engulfing musical drama and leaves no musical pauses for applause. It points up how completely Macatsoris supports these singers’ to technically realize every moment. Meanwhile, Capobianco keeps the action in motion especially among the earthy supporting cast – de rigueur for a fine Il tabarro.

Capobianco more than lightens the dark mood, but is just as lusty with the comic mayhem of Gianni Schicchi, Puccini’s farce set in 13th century Florence, where the wealthy ancient Buoso Donati has just died and his relatives discover that he has willed his estate to the local friars. Schicchi is called in to concoct a scheme to prevent that from happening. Meanwhile, young lovers Rinnuncio and Lauretta (Schicchi’s daughter) just want to run off and get married.

Alasdair Kent proves a most lyrical tenor as Rinnuncio and Karen Barazza is equally charming as Lauretta as his soon to be bride. Barazza handles the opera’s most famous aria “O mio babbino caro”, with a silvery vocal lightness. Also sharp character singing by Anthony Whitson Martini as the decrepit doctor and terrific comic turn by Bob Kravitz as the propped up patriarch Buoso, in extremis. Baritone Ethan Simpson sings the title role from the orchestra as Nathan Milhoulin, a forceful baritone/actor and looking perfect as the self-serving Gianni, but walked the role onstage but didn’t sing it due to health reasons and Simpson’s handled the part with power and wit from the orchestra. The director himself appears at the end speaking the final elegant lines of the opera, in a beautifully intimate finishing touch.

For information about this production and AVA go to AVA’s website.

Lewis Whittington



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