Shortly after the 1918 premiere of Giacomo Puccini's Il Trittico - three one-act, one-hour works - opera houses started separating the component parts, much to the composer's regret. Everyone loved the sole comedy, Gianni Schicchi, so it was assured of performances. But opinions were decidedly mixed about Il Tabarro, a violent slice of working-class life, and, especially, Suor Angelica, a tragedy set in a nunnery. Both had trouble gaining wide circulation.
Today, it's still hard to encounter Il Trittico in toto, so Peabody Opera Theatre's effective production over the weekend was most welcome.
Director Roger Brunyate placed each opera in the same era - the Victorian/Edwardian cusp, where Il Tabarro was already set. A few lines in Gianni Schicchi, originally set in 13th-century Florence, didn't quite work in a 19th-century context, but, ultimately, Brunyate's approach made theatrical sense. The result was a look at three chapters from the same edition of a book about the ever-challenging human condition.
Gianni Schicchi was the high point of the performance Saturday night in Peabody's Friedberg Hall. It's an amusing opera to begin with, this tale of greed and table-turning. But it seemed freshly so here, thanks to the clever, well-synchronized action that Brunyate devised.
Peabody alum Tim Mix made the rascally Schicchi irresistible with his robust baritone, colorful phrasing and assured acting. Yoo-Jin Jeong, as Lauretta, delivered a sweet account of the hit aria O mio babbino caro. William Farrar Strum's Rinuccio was another charmer; the tenor ran into a few roadblocks in the upper reaches, but had an engaging fervor. The remainder of the large cast contained some well-honed voices, others still clearly in their student years. Everyone, though, proved adept at handling the funny business.
Hajime Teri Murai conducted this work, as he did the other two operas, with judicious tempos and plenty of expressive fire. He had the Peabody Symphony Orchestra responding vibrantly.
Il Tabarro, a stark tale of a marriage broken by infidelity and dreams, needed tauter direction in places, but the peak moments of drama were powerfully delivered. Mix gave a vocally sturdy, impassioned performance as the unhappy barge owner Michele. Christine Kavanagh Miller, another Peabody alum, produced a big, bright sound as Michele's unfaithful wife, Giorgetta. One more alum, Richard Crawley, sang with plenty of urgency as the lover, Luigi, but more nuance would have been welcome. Elizabeth Healy provided colorful distraction as the bag lady Frugola.
With its awkward Virgin Mary ex machina finale, Suor Angelica requires very careful handling. Brunyate directed that ending straight, and it came off as unpersuasive as it usually does. But the rest of the opera had enough impact to generate the intended pathos in this tale of a nun cruelly punished for her past life.
Andrea Wiltzius sang the title role in a warm, mostly cooperative voice and touchingly phrased the heart-stirring aria Senza mamma. As Angelica's icy aunt, Jo-Pei Weng used her sizable, burnished mezzo to compelling effect. For the most part, the rest of the all-female cast did accomplished work.
James M. Fouchard's sets, occasionally in need of subtler lighting from Douglas Nelson, conjured sufficient atmosphere for each of the operas in this rewarding triple dose of Puccini.