Book by Michael Capasso & Bill Van Horn; lyrics & music by Giacomo Puccini [narration in English with musical selections sung in Italian with English dicapotitles]
Musetta / Magda / Liù – Elana Gleason
Manon Lescaut / Tosca / Turandot – Kristin Sampson
Anna / Musetta / Lauretta – Christian Sineath
Mimì / Cio-Cio San – Rachel Zatcoff
Roberto / Rodolfo / Pinkerton – Alex Richardson
Cavaradossi / Dick Johnson / Calàf – Vincenzo Scuderi
Frank / Marcello / Ping – Gustavo Feulien
Giacomo Puccini – Michael Capasso (narrator)
Pacien Mazzagatti (piano & music director)
Francine Harman – Stage Director
John Farrell – Set Designer
Emily Rose Parman – Costume Coordinator
Susan Roth – Lighting Designer
Reviewed by: Victor Wheeler
Reviewed: 11 October, 2012
Venue: Dicapo Opera Theatre at East 76th Street & Lexington Avenue, New York City
Imagine a two-hour potpourri of Puccini operatic selections and you have Puccini’s Passion. Michael Capasso and Bill Van Horn have crafted a story based on the composer’s life to overlay sixteen selections from his operas performed by singers of the Dicapo Opera. Capasso, in an adroit portrayal of the composer, narrates the proceedings.
The work’s title refers to Puccini’s passion for the various women who flitted in and out of his life. Only his relationship with Elvira, his mistress of seventeen years and then (after her husband died) his wife, seemed to persist forever in Puccini’s life – much to the composer’s chagrin. Puccini’s often intimate and tempestuous affairs spurred him on to create his female operatic characters. In Turandot, Elvira was the basis for the ice princess herself and Liù was based on Doria Manfredi, their 21-year-old servant with whom Elvira was convinced Puccini was having an affair. Elvira’s jealousy drove Doria to committing suicide by poison – it took her five days to die an agonizing death. The subsequent autopsy showed that Doria died a virgin.
It is said that the composer’s obsession for ravishing women and for duck-hunting left him little time to write music. Yet even so, each of his twelve operas has at least one female character whose dynamism or tragic flaw is convincingly brought to life through some of the most melodic music ever written for the opera stage. Think of Mimì and Musetta in La bohème: as the character of Puccini says, “Musetta will break your heart; Mimì will wither in your arms.”
The narrative of Puccini’s Passion involves one day in the composer’s life: 4 November 1924, when he was on his way to Brussels for throat-cancer treatment not available in Italy. When an Italian train strike delays his departure, he passes the time, cigarette in hand, by reminiscing on the women in his life and in his operas. After each recollection, the equivalent female operatic personage would walk on to sing.
The performers for the evening were four sopranos, two tenors, and one baritone. There was no orchestra, just a pianist, Pacien Mazzagatti, who played masterfully. The stage was effectively divided into two parts, separated by a translucent curtain, with the pianist behind it while the front of the stage had period-piece furniture. The singers performed in marvelous costumes suggestive of the periods in which the various operas are set.
The talented cast performed with considerable zest, starting with Christian Sineath as Anna in Le villi (1884), Puccini’s first opera. Later, Sineath was superb in Lauretta’s ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Gianni Schicchi. Kristin Sampson’s ‘In questa reggia’ from Turandot shook the rafters, and she brought flair and beauteous sound to Manon’s aria, ‘In quelle trine morbide’ from Manon Lescaut. Elana Gleason was credibly coquettish in Musetta’s ‘Quando men vo’ from La bohème, and, as Magda in La Rondine, she sang ‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’ with verve and elegance.
Argentinean Gustavo Feulien sang with clarity of tone throughout, with Frank’s aria ‘Questo amor, vergogna mia’ from Edgar, Puccini’s second opera, being especially beautifully sung. Alex Richardson was fine in Roberto’s ‘Torna ai felice di’ from Le villi, and was joined by Rachel Zatcoff for breathtakingly poignant and passionate duets: Mimì and Rodolfo’s ‘O soave fanciulla’ (La bohème) and Cio-Cio San and Pinkerton’s ‘Vogliatemi bene, un bene piccolino’ (Madama Butterfly).
Sampson as Tosca and Vincenzo Scuderi as Cavaradossi sang ‘Chi è quella donna bionda lassù?’, he with plausible innocence and she with just the right amount of skepticism – and then trust. Scuderi’s powerful voice occasionally strained on high notes, as in Dick Johnson’s ‘Ch’ella mi creda’ from La fanciulla del West, but not so in Calàf’s ‘Nessun dorma’ from Turandot, for which he saved his best for last. This was the final aria of the evening, after which the rail strike ends and Puccini is finally on his way to Brussels.
What an absorbing way to bring many of Puccini’s terrific melodies to the stage in a relatively short production!