The Puccini Duo: Suor Angelica & Gianni Schicchi – San Diego Opera

Culture across the ages has had a mixed experience with trilogies. The challenge of connecting three stories is that the middle one is inevitably fraught with an incomplete ending. Godfather II is the exception that proves the rule, but whether it is The Lord of The Rings (book or film) or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (ditto) the inherent issue pervades.

That is perhaps why Puccini’s Trittico (Triptych) has often been split into two, but San Diego Opera’s bold pairing of the two vignettes has rarely been done before. In this case, the moods of the two parts are diametrically opposed. “Suor Angelica” is a tragedy concerning a young woman who is sent off to a convent after giving birth out of wedlock. After several years, she is visited by the Principessa, who delivers the devastating news that her son had died of a tragic sickness several years earlier. For the second half “Gianni Schicchi” however is a wonderful comedy filled with laughs, memorable characters and the lovely aria famous even to those with a passing interest in opera: “O mio babbino caro.”

In another first, Stephanie Blythe is the first mezzo-soprano to sing the eponymous role of “Gianni Schicchi.” She also sings the more subdued Principessa in “Suor Angelica” but fully performs in the evening’s second half in the titular role.

There is really no connecting tissue between the two vignettes (although Dante’s Inferno is apparently often mentioned), and after the sweet opening of “Suor Angelica” the tone turns sad as our heroine (Melanie Taylor Burgess) grapples with her loss. Her vocal prowess is commendable.

Also set in Florence, “Gianni Schicchi” shifts tones mightily. Puccini and his librettist Giocacchino Forzano undoubtedly enjoyed pointing out how much more valuable is a single house in Florence compared to farms and acreage in the outlying areas. The opera (Puccini’s only comedy) surrounds the disposition of a will, and how the assets might be apportioned among our characters. Whenever the narrative revolves around descriptions of Florence, the lighting becomes sepia – toned and thoroughly effective.

Yves Abel conducts admirably through the evening. In the second half the guffaws come fast and furious, and it was a delightful evening.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.