BWW Review: PUCCINI SPECTACULAR Presented Selections From Nine Operas In Two hours

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Friday 2nd September 2016

In the late 19th and early 20th Century the style of opera known as verismo (realism) came to the fore and one of the greatest of the composers working in this style was Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924). As a wonderful prelude to their production of Tosca later this year, the State Opera of South Australia is celebrating its 40th birthday by presenting the Puccini Spectacular, a collection of aria, duets, trios, and ensembles selected from his operas.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Mould, was in top form but, of course, that is nothing new for this marvellous group of musicians. Mould and the Orchestra thoroughly embraced the glorious music of Puccini, as the regular orchestra for State Opera productions, brought their vast experience of accompanying singers to the stage to make this an exceptional production.

Interestingly, the concert began with a piece by Leon Cavallo, the Prologue from I Paggliacci in which they were joined by baritone, Jeremy Tatchell. Cavallo was another who was composing in the verismo style, and this piece provided a great start and an interesting comparison to the main fare of the evening. It could be said that Tatchell is a great favourite with Adelaide audiences, but that applies equally to all of the eight singers. Cavallo's most famous aria from this opera, Vesti la giubba, was given a mighty performance early in the second half by tenor, Rosario La Spina.

The rest of the music was entirely from Puccini's operas: La Bohème, Tosca, Gianni Schicchi, La Rondine, Madama Butterfly, Turandot, Manon Lescaut, and Suor Angelica, with Tatchell and La Spina as well as Gisèle Blanchard, Teresa La Rocca, Joanna McWaters, Samantha Rubenhold, Bernard Hull, and Douglas McNicol.

With such a talented group of eight singers to select from, and all of the music from nine operas, the options are almost unlimited when choosing a programme to match each of their individual styles and preferences. Gianni Scicchi gave Samantha Rubenhold, Bernard Hull, and Douglas McNicol the first trio of the evening, Lauretta mia, with a superb delivery, and the first half closed with the ensemble piece, Quando m'en vo, from La Bohème, with all but La Rocca and Blanchard, but with Sexton joining in as Alcindoro.

During the first half, Blanchard gave us one of the rarer works, with Doretta's beautiful aria from La Rondine, McWaters and La Spina presented the lovely duet, O suove fanciulla, and La Rocca sang, Si, mia chimano Mimi, both from La Bohème. It was getting better and better as the night progressed, and the excitement of the audience could be felt increasing.

The Intermezzo from Manon Lescaut allowed the orchestra to shine, as they opened the second part of the evening. La Rocca presented Senza mamma, from another of the less often heard operas, Suor Angelica, concerts such as this surely being a joy for the singers as much as the audience to visit these works, which contain music as wonderful as Tosca, or Madama Butterfly. Blanchard visited Turandot, to sing the charming Signor, ascolte, the Tosca got the expected exposure, with La Spina singing Elucivan le stelle, followed by Runehold with Vissi d'arte, and if those two don't convince you to rush to get tickets, then nothing will.

Madama Butterfly never fails to win over audiences, whether first time opera goers or long time lovers of opera. Dovunque al mondo gave Hull, as Pinkerton, McNicol, as Sharpless, and Tachell, as Goro, the opportunity to indulge in another Puccini rarity, a male voice trio. The main character, of course, is Cio Cio San, known as Butterfly, and this gives McWaters a duet with Hull, Vogliatemi bene, an aria, Un bel di, the much loved One fine day, and a duet with La Rocco as Suzuki, the flower duet.

However you might like to describe this concert, whether as all of the best bits, or the most well-known bits, or the most popular bits, it was packed with melodies that easily fit into all three categories. The packed audience was ready to enthusiastically applaud every offering, and well deserved applause it was, too, as one musical gem after another filled the Adelaide Town Hall. This was an evening of nothing but highlights.

It was a great pleasure to these singers negotiating so many roles in such a short time, and reminding us of the glory of Puccini's compositions, and understanding of characters, taking us through so much of his work. The question now is, when will we see the less often performed operas, as a concert version, or scaled down in the Opera Studio, if a fully staged version cannot be arranged.

This company is becoming a world benchmark for not only covering the spectaculars, but embracing very different works that others find too challenging, such as the Philip Glass Trilogy, that is still spoken of in terms of great praise, to events such as this one. This opens up so many opportunities for top flight international and Australian singers, singers in mid career looking to tackle bigger roles, emerging artists, and, through some of the more innovative approaches being taken, bring in a new and younger group of people who quickly become regular audience members, something opera companies the world over are lamenting is not happening for them. Our company is thriving, thank you very much.

As Sexton correctly said, if the concert had not included Nessun dorma, from Turandot, the audience might well have rebelled. It was saved until the final item on the programme, and given a performance by La Spina that ensured that this concert would not be soon forgotten. There was, naturally, an encore demanded and provided, and that will remain a secret shared between those who attended one of the three concerts this weekend. There is still time to be part of an audience, but there are not that many tickets left to be had, so hurry.

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From This Author Barry Lenny

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