Miami Lyric Opera delivers with a terrific double shot of Puccini

By Lawrence Budmen

Maryann Mootos sang the role of Giorgetta in Miami Lyric Opera’s production of Puccini’s “Il Tabarro” Saturday night.

Miami Lyric Opera’s dual productions of Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi, two of the three operas that comprise Puccini’s “Il Trittico,” opened at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach Saturday night and proved to be one of the finest offerings in the company’s ten-year history.

All of the strengths of Raffaele Cardone’s upstart company were on display—exuberant singing of lead roles, productions that respect the composer’s wishes and a dramatic staging, devoid of trendy updates or gimmicky revisionist concepts. Casting of supporting roles and orchestral playing, consistently weak elements in past MLO presentations, showed marked improvement.

The two one-act operas, which had not been heard locally in decades, represent polar opposites and reveal Puccini as an inventive and adventurous composer, beyond the inspired lyricism of La Boheme and Madama Butterfly or the blood and thunder of Tosca.

Il Tabarro is set on a barge in the Seine, just beyond the sidewalks of Paris. The barge owner Michele suspects his wife Giorgetta of infidelity with one of his stevedores, leading to tragedy and murder. To a greater extent than in any of his other works, Puccini evokes the raw emotions of verismo, closer stylistically to the operas of Mascagni and Leoncavallo. Echoes of French impressionism waft through the atmospheric orchestral writing.

Cardone staged the volatile drama with immediacy in Nelson Guerrero’s adroit set, contrasting the constricted barge and dock against the spacious backdrop of Parisian street life. Nelson Martinez was a commanding Michele, his rich and sizable baritone turning mellow and soft as he agonized over his wife’s lack of affection.

Maryann Mootos’s anguished Giorgetta conveyed despair over the death of her child and daydreams of a better life in soaring soprano tones. Her gorgeous blending of timbres in duet with the dark-hued Luigi of Philip Alongi was one of the evening’s highlights. Alongi’s clarion top notes and striking physicality suggest future major tenor status. Among smaller roles, count Lissette Jimenez’s laser-like mezzo as La Frugola, Enrique Estrada’s virile Il Talpa and Alejandro Viera’s sweet-voiced Song Vendor as standouts.

Gianni Schicchi is a sparkling comedy, the bubbly score replete with felicitous strands of clipped instrumental motifs and rapid melodic cells passed between the vocal ensemble in the manner of Verdi’s Falstaff. In a palatial Florence estate, the businessman Schicchi impersonates the deceased Buoso Donati whose relatives have been disinherited. He dictates a new will, leaving the bulk of the estate to “a friend” Gianni Schicchi.

Richard Cassell was the sly schemer personified, prancing about the stage and delivering rapid-fire patter with the zesty agility and ballast of a Gilbert and Sullivan veteran. As Lauretta, Rebekah Diaz’s light soprano took flight in a tender, subtly shaded O mio babbino caro. David Pereira was a dulcet-voiced Rinuccio, his paean to Florence sung with ringing fervor. Jimenez’s rasping Zita, Maria Cassell’s hilarious doctor and Gabriel Menendez’s mock notary were born comics.

Under Doris Lang Kosloff’s assured direction, the orchestra sounded remarkably secure and vibrant. Robert Billington’s silvery flute solos commanded attention. Kosloff captured much of the restless, shifting moods of Il Tabarro and the quicksilver fizz of Gianni Schicchi.

Note: Suor Angelica, the third work of Puccini’s “Il Trittico,” is scheduled for an MLO production in September, part of a double bill with Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.

Miami Lyric Opera repeats Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi 4 p.m. Sunday at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach.

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Sun Jul 14, 2013
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