Regina Opera Company 2023 Review: Il Tabarro
An intimate performance captures the power and passion of Puccini’s one-act operaBy Matt Costello
Photo: Heather Bobeck
Giacomo Puccini’s “ll trittico.” Is there any other example of such a special trilogy of one-act operas in the canon? (One that comes to mind is a triptych by Paul Hindemith, though the work is rarely performed.) But “Il trittico” was written while Puccini was at the height of his talents, and he composed three one-act operas as a single body of work that premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in Dec. 1918.
What is most remarkable is that each piece has its own very rich musical palette. Each is so different, yet all display the power of Puccini as a composer.
Of course, there is the fun and crowd-pleasing “Gianni Schicchi,” which had its moment on the big screen with Al Pacino’s masterful portrayal of Serpico. (While driving, he sang—badly—about Gianni.)
Then, there is the powerful “Suor Angelica.” In this part of ‘”Il trittico,” Puccini created a work that was certainly the most emotional of the trio and his personal favorite. Beautiful and overwhelming music conveys his tale of a nun confronted with terrible loss.
And lastly, though usually performed first, is “Il tabarro.” It is the darkest of the three. The opera is the story of an unhappy couple living on the Seine on a barge, and its subject is marital infidelity. The storyline is an operatic staple, along with the violence to which it leads.
With each of these fully-imagined musical worlds, it’s a wonder how amazingly productive Puccini was during his later period. Only “Turandot” remained; the composer died before finishing that one.
Regina Opera Company is a company tucked away near Flatbush in Brooklyn, and just before theater curtains closed for months because of the pandemic, the company staged “Gianni Schicchi.” It was a thoroughly engaging and professional performance, all things considered. With that ‘curtain’ largely parted, Regina returns with another from the triptych, “Il tabarro.”
A Strong Cast Makes Puccini’s Dark “Tabbaro” Shine
Three strong and classic leads must anchor any production of this dark piece. One is the older, largely unloved husband, Michele, and the second, his wife, Giorgetta, pining for passion, romance, and a life away from the grimy barge and the gruff Michele. Lastly, there’s the handsome lover, Luigi, who works for Michele. He is lured by the beauty and kindness of his boss’ wife, as lethal a mistake as a poor stevedore could make.
And so, in a triangle that Verdi would approve of, we have the two lovers—tenor and soprano—with the baritone in the middle of it all, a combination that always produces dramatic results.
The excellent cast well served this production. Two casts were used during the show’s run; this review is the final performance.
The tenor portraying Luigi, Christopher Trapani, conveyed all the passion a trapped wife could want in a lover. Trapani’s voice was powerful and clear, filling the large, classic auditorium with a robust and ringing sound. The bravos received were well deserved. He looked and acted the part, too, especially when compared with his grumpy and gruff boss.
Matching Trapani, Dilara Unsal, had an engaging performance and generated real heat in her scenes with Luigi; her soprano voice was equal to the dramatic demands of Puccini’s lush score. She conveyed the desperate desire for another life with a soaring and compelling voice and clearly expressed the character’s sweet longing and romantic desires. As lovers, Unsal and Trapani created a palpable tension in their romantic plans to ‘escape.’
But the score affirms that doom is stalking their plans, yet, like many lovers, they do not see this.
Finally, there was Brian Montgomery’s portrayal of the domineering husband and owner of the barge, Michele. Here, Puccini, with librettist Giuseppe Adami, gave us passion of a different sort. He was confused by his wife’s rejection and feared that he would lose her. But he also had a gritty determination that such a thing must not happen.
The cuckolded husband finishes the tragic tale by finally dispatching the hapless Luigi. And here, the baritone comes to dominate the opera. As he suspected, his wife is unfaithful, and he catches her. At the end of this dark yet very effective piece, Michele reveals to his unfaithful wife the strangled Luigi, dead and hidden by il tabarro…the cloak.
Montgomery’s voice more than matched this demanding scene and the more tender moments, stirring us with a different and dangerous fire from a classic baritone role who gets his revenge.
The audience loved the trio of singers, responding strongly to each, and the scale of singing that if you had not been to see Regina Opera in Brooklyn, you might find surprising. The performance was a jewel. Having “Il tabarro” presented alone allowed the darkest segment of “Trittico” to shine truly.
Impressive Supporting Cast
As for the rest of the talented cast, the love triangle was ably supported by the key role of La Frugola, the stevedore Talpa’s wife, sung by mezzo-soprano Vita Koreneva. Her character sings of the simple country life for which she longs; it’s safe and quiet compared to the fiery hunger of Giorgetta. Her simple yearning was beautifully sung, as were her moments with Talpa, performed by Steven Fredericks.
Supporting all was a well-rehearsed group of other stevedores and Parisian locals. The tipsy Tinca of Josh Avant provided laughs in a show that is anything but funny.
The other roles, such as a song peddler, Adam Goldstein, and the lovers, Lindell Carter and Arina Ayzen, kept the standard of both performance and dramatic singing consistently high.
The production featured a well-rendered barge, with access to the nearby streets of Paris and Notre Dame in the background. The great river rippled, lamps were lit, and car horns beeped—but the joy that can be Paris at night appeared to be something else completely in many ways. “Il tabarro” could be seen as the flip side of “La Bohème,” with its happy-go-lucky bohemian artists exchanged for the grim and tough existence of the hard-working stevedores. The great city’s cafes, music, and bright lights are suddenly distant. We are reminded of this when the song peddler sings a tune from the latest ditty for sale and references none other than Mimì.
“Il tabarro’s” score is one of many colors. Coming as it does after “La fanciulla del West” and before “Turandot,” “Il tabbaro” is a moving swirl of musical themes and moody motifs that are remarkably and unusually beautiful, even when compared to the other operas of the triptych.
The orchestra, led by Gregory Ortega, brought the rich colors and shimmering sounds to life. When the conductor took the stage for a bow, he asked all the musicians to rise, and they, too, got a well-deserved and enthusiastic round of applause.
Considering how very good it was, the opera was over too quickly. The one-act was so wonderful to hear on a Sunday afternoon; you felt like you were in some regional theater in Italy, with a local troupe tackling a challenging piece by the great Puccini.
Perhaps Puccini’s favorite of the three, “Suor Angelica,” might be done by the company sometime soon. We should hope so.