Much as we love Cav ‘n Pag (and we DO!) it is exciting to be introduced to two short operas that have been rather overlooked. For this blessing, we thank Duane Printz, Founding Executive and Artistic Director of Teatro Grattacielo. She has ceretainly found a niche in New York and fills it admirably. Her motto seems to be “No worthy realismo work will go undiscovered and unheard.” This year’s production was given at the Rose Theater and was well attended by an audience of enthusiasts. David Wroe conducted the Westfield Symphony Orchestra with a great deal of style. And this marvelous music deserved all the fine attention he gave it.
First on the program was Primo Riccitelli’s comedy “I Compagnacci”,which won first prize at a national opera competition in 1922 and premiered in Rome to great critical and audience acclaim the following year. Having studied with Mascagni, Riccitelli made good use of what he learned; his score is delightfully melodic and the orchestrations are fresh and tickle the ear. In America critics were not so kind and reviews of that epoch demonstrate a lack of appreciation for the way in which each generation of composers builds upon the works of prior generations. (This same flaw of music critics is heard today when they scorn tuneful works as “derivative”.)
The piece is one of a very few comedies of the realismo period and takes place in 15th c. Florence. In Giovacchino Forzano’s libretto a young woman is about to be married off by her inflexible uncle to a man she doesn’t love; she is rescued by the man she does love on the basis of a wager concerning the friars who are planning to walk on hot coals to prove Savonarola innocent. One need not be versed in Italian political history to enjoy the jokes at the friar’s expense; there are giggles to be had even by the ignorant and if you don’t understand Italian and are not up to following the libretto, the well-crafted music will tell you when to laugh! If one has seen “Gianni Schicchi” at the Met, one could very well visualize the setting in one’s mind’s eye and forget that one is listening to a concert version. All of the voices were fine and suited to the parts, with Jessica Klein portraying the young woman, Gerard Powers singing her beloved, and Peter Castaldi as the recalcitrant uncle.
Second on the bill was Giordano’s final opera “Il Re”, premiered in 1929 at La Scala and never before seen in the United States. This was a time when modernist composers were trying to change the musical language of opera and Giordano’s opera was considered old fashioned. But never mind what the critics had to say, the audience loved it. (Does this sound familiar?) To judge by the applause, 21st c. New York audiences loved it also. The music is filled with wit and humor; themes are bounced around from one section of the orchestra to another. The same librettist as that of “Il Compagnacci” seems to have had a love of humor. The story concerns a young woman who rejects her fiance after seeing the king, resplendent in his royal robes. She hears a chickadee singing (oh, that flute!) about her future as the king’s bride and she cannot be convinced otherwise. Her parents and her fiance ask the king for help and he agrees on one condition; they must send her to his royal rooms that very night. When the king removes his royal robes and wig she is horrified to see him as he really is and runs fleeing to the arms of her fiance. Problem solved.
Vocal honors for the evening went to Joanna Mongiardo whose dazzling soprano brought the audience to it’s collective feet. John Maynard sang Il Re, James Price the fiance, and the parents were portrayed by Lawrence Long and Eugenie Grunewald.
One can only hope that one of our small opera companies will decide to produce this charming double bill with sets and costumes. There is a built-in audience for sure.
© meche kroop for The Opera Insider
10 hours ago