"When Michael Capasso, the general director of Dicapo Opera Theater, appeared on the stage of the Rose Theater on Monday night to introduce his modest company’s ambitious Puccini gala, he knew the mood in the hall might be tense.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Puccini’s birth, to the day, Dicapo was performing excerpts from all 10 of his operas in chronological order. But the gala had been beset with cancellations from several important singers, changes that the company’s Web site and promotional materials had inadequately acknowledged.
To defuse the tension during his welcoming speech, Mr. Capasso began with a stunt. As he explained the reasons for the cancellations, an audience member, playing an irate patron in a tuxedo, stood up, shouted angrily and heaved his shoe at Mr. Capasso, whose reflexes proved to be as nimble as those of President Bush.
Joking aside, some of the cancellations were caused by personal crises. The soprano Daniela Dessì injured her face in a car accident. The tenor Francisco Casanova had to rush home to the Dominican Republic to be with his gravely ill mother.
The company does seem to have bungled things with the popular soprano Aprile Millo, who was announced as a participant but asserts on her blog that she was never asked to appear. Mr. Capasso counterasserts that he had numerous exchanges with Ms. Millo’s manager.
To top it off, the great soprano Renata Scotto, scheduled to host the gala, also withdrew at the last moment, Mr. Capasso sheepishly explained, so that she could be on hand for the birth of her first granddaughter, who arrived on Saturday.
In any event, against all odds the three-hour gala turned out to be a rewarding survey of Puccini’s achievement. The orchestra and chorus Dicapo typically recruits for its productions were expanded significantly for this ambitious program. And the singers who participated included major artists, like the tenor Fabio Armiliato (Ms. Dessì’s husband) and the soprano Verónica Villarroel, who substituted for Ms. Dessì (though Mr. Capasso failed to announce her in his introduction). Four conductors took turns at the podium: Francisco Bonnín, Pacien Mazzagatti, Victor DeRenzi and Eve Queler, who is well known to New Yorkers.
Naturally, it is hard to meet expectations in operas as beloved as “La Bohème” and “Tosca,” which have long heritages of legendary performances. But the chronological format of this program put the emphasis on the music and the composer’s development.
“Le Villi,” Puccini’s debut opera , which had its premiere in Milan in 1884 when he was 25, is set in the Black Forest during the Middle Ages, a mystical tale of an honorable maiden deserted by her betrothed. Puccini was never satisfied with the work, which remains little known. But in the Trio and Prayer performed here — with Julianna Di Giacomo, a promising young lyric soprano; the baritone Michael Chioldi; and the tenor John Matz (substituting for Mr. Casanova) — you at least heard all the ingredients for a fine Puccini opera.
After two excerpts from “Edgar,” Puccini’s second opera, another work in which the composer was finding his way, Ms. Villarroel and Mr. Armiliato gave their all to the impassioned Act II duet from “Manon Lescaut,” Puccini’s first truly great work, from 1893.
In the excerpts from “Tosca,” the soprano Irina Rindzuner brought her powerful if hard-edged voice and impetuosity to the title role. Mr. Armiliato stopped the show with an elegant account of Cavaradossi’s aria “E lucevan le stelle,” complete with fine-spun pianissimo phrasing and exciting top notes.
Ms. Di Giacomo’s affecting performance of “Senza Mamma” from the one-act “Suor Angelica” (part two of “Il Trittico”) was another highlight. Ms. Rindzuner’s fearless though somewhat strident account of the daunting aria “In Questa Reggia” from “Turandot” earned her a rousing ovation.
But the star of the evening for me was Mr. Armiliato, who was also excellent in Dick Johnson’s Act III aria from “La Fanciulla del West.” He delivered a superb account of “Nessun dorma” from “Turandot.” Why has this stylish Italian tenor been absent from the Metropolitan Opera since 2004?
The program ended the only way it possibly could have, when Ms. Villarroel brought alluring colorings and lyrical poignancy to Liu’s death scene from Act III of “Turandot,” the last music Puccini wrote before he died at 65 in 1924, leaving the opera’s final scene incomplete.All the participants came onstage as Mr. Capasso wheeled out a birthday cake. The audience joined the performers in saluting Puccini, his image peering from a poster hovering over the stage and looking justifiably satisfied."
A. Tommasini, The New York Times; 23/12/2008