Il Trittico, Puccini’s triptych of one-act operas, is back at the Metropolitan Opera this season, complete with a star turn from Placido Domingo. At the grand age of 77, Domingo has lost little of the vitality and virtuosity that propelled him to opera stardom, and he gives a vigorous, joyful performance in the title role in Gianni Schicchi, the opera that concludes Puccini’s Il Trittico.
The balance between the three operas that comprise Il Trittico can shift dramatically from production to production. Purely in terms of musical composition, Il Tabarro, the dark tale of adultery and murder that opens Il Trittico, may boast the greatest riches; certainly, it’s the most diversely composed and intricately structured of the three operas, layering vocal lines and musical modes in thrillingly unexpected ways. Suor Angelica, which follows, seems comparatively more straightforward, though it excels its companions in its seamless synthesis of drama and music. The lighthearted conclusion, Gianni Schicchi, features Il Trittico‘s most popular aria, but is not as musically complex as either of its predecessors, even if Puccini has a great deal of fun setting the comic libretto to music.
The current production, directed by Jack O’Brien with sets by Douglas W. Schmidt, originated in 2007, and it grants each of these operas a lush presentation with few key striking images. O’Brien has a better feel for momentum and movement than he does for dramatic nuance, which makes him a great fit for the manic madness of Schicchi. Tabarro perhaps lends itself to greater intimacy than O’Brien gives it, but the expansiveness of Puccini’s score means it can survive the sweeping treatment O’Brien applies to it. O’Brien seems to stumble somewhat when it comes to Angelica, which works best when presented with a level of psychological vividness that O’Brien’s broad strokes do not quite convey.
At least Suor Angelica boasts the fine talents of Kristine Opolais, who has become something of a recurring star at the Met, and her achingly sincere interpretation of Sister Angelica grounds Suor Angelica even as the artifice of the staging comes close to overwhelming it.