Opera roundup: Some comedies, for a change

Shavon Lloyd (Betto) and Natalie Lewis (Zita) are skeptical about their inheritance in Juilliard's riotous "Gianni Schicchi."
Shavon Lloyd (Betto) and Natalie Lewis (Zita) are skeptical about their inheritance in Juilliard’s riotous “Gianni Schicchi.”
Maria Baranova, courtesy of Juilliard

At Juilliard April 18, Daniela Candillari led impressive performances of “Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi” (“Il tabarro,” the third opera in Puccini’s 1918 trilogy, is resolutely not for student voices.) John Giampietro’s minimalist staging of the tragedy —seemingly in a contemporary Magdalene Home-type correctional home — lost the outdoor elements depicted in its score. Almost all props, including Angelica’s final vision, became blue scarves; maybe the imprisoned women simply fantasized comforts.

The ensemble meshed well. Deborah Love made a touching protagonist, but her attractive, still-developing, soft-grained soprano had some trouble with pitch and the part’s tricky high notes. Natalie Lewis’ imperious, rich-voiced Zia Principessa dominated everything and went on to be a hilarious Zita in “Schicchi.” No surprise when Lewis proved a Met Auditions winner the same week; her diction needs polish, but she’s an expressive performer with a wonderful instrument. “Schicchi” was riotously funny, well served by Giampietro’s direction and Audrey Nauman’s delightful costumes. If (understandably) young for the role, Joseph Parrish was a nimble, livewire Schicchi. Vocal standouts were César Parreño (Rinuccio), Erin O’Rourke (Nella), Shavon Lloyd (Betto), and Jason Hwang (Spinelloccio.)

On April 19 the Met pulled off a delightful “Elisir d’amore,” led well by Michele Gamba, on the only night all season when 26-year old tenor Jonah Hoskins tackled a leading role. His blond boy-next-door Nemorino was charming and extremely well sung; if he had nerves, they didn’t show, and he won an ovation with “Una furtiva lagrima.” He should resist offers of Alfredo and Rodolfo and stick — for a while — with Mozart, Rossini, Ernesto and Fenton. Having a fine new light lyric tenor around always helps. All three supportive colleagues suited their roles: Joshua Hopkins’s preening macho but musical Belcore and Alex Esposito’s unstarry but authentically funny Dulcamara complemented Aleksandra Kurzak’s sparky, assertive Norina. No other Met soprano has ever sung “Elisir” and “Tosca” in the same season, let alone scored highly in both. The kind of night one wishes every performance would be.

Seen the next evening, Robert Carsen’s “Rosenkavalier” staging, handled this year by Paula Suozzi, had creative moments, particularly in Act One’s handsome space, but the comedy got largely — and, finally, literally — killed dead by “extra-itis”: just too much visual overkill. Simone Young conducted without affection or the sensuality essential to Strauss’s score. Lise Davidsen’s Marschallin offered gorgeous full-voiced singing and had worked hard on the conversational ease the First Act’s closing scene demands; she convinced less as Act Three’s grande dame, but made a good start on the role. Next to her, Samantha Hankey’s fine Octavian looked and sounded a bit small-scale (who wouldn’t?) but she’s a commendable artist. Though the voice is diminished at both ends, Günther Groissböck’s “hot Ochs” put over the Viennese dialect and the ultra-toxicity with flair, but stole focus constantly. Erin Morley’s Sophie had the chemistry with Hankey that eluded Davidsen. Brian Mulligan brought a front-line baritone to Faninal, but Carsen’s concept of the role lacks clarity. Among major supporting roles, only Scott Conner’s Police Commissioner shone.

Heartbeat Opera’s welcome season at Baruch included a fantastic version of Verdi’s “Macbeth” called “Lady M,” brilliantly transmuted for a funky but chic 6-person band by Daniel Schlosberg in a way that made one listen afresh to the music and (Shakespeare-reinforced) text. Emma Jaster’s staging concentrated on Scotland’s bereft Lady — a fabulous all-in performance by Lisa Algozzini, occasionally flat on top April 22 but a really exciting singing actress (which the part demands) here led astray by her bloodless yuppie corporate tool Thane, sturdy lyric baritone Kenneth Stavert. Isaiah Musik-Ayala offered a strong Banquo, but the fabulous Three Sisters (Samarie Alicea, Taylor-Alexis Dupont, Sishel Claverie), essentially absorbing what remained of the other music, cleaned up. This production, like Heartbeat’s “Fidelio,” should tour college campuses and guarantee a new generation of operagoers. This veteran Verdian loved it.

Two Boston Symphony concerts under Music Director Andris Nelsons — whom the players obviously revere, unleashing wonderfully coordinated music-making — employed world-class vocal soloists. The highlight of March 25’s Carnegie visit was Jean Sibelius’ gorgeous 10-minute “Luonnotar,” sung with ravishing tone, spot-on intonation in difficult intervals, and the long breath line for the medieval epic-influenced meter by the luminous Golda Schultz. That Sibelius created a jewel of such delicate, concentrated beauty and in the same years perpetrated the windy, meretricious Fifth Symphony (closing the program) beggars comprehension.

In their home theater May 6, Nelsons offered Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony (1962) a protest against prejudice and injustice, dating from the one brief period in Soviet history when mild dissent was officially tolerated. Its conjoining of five Yevgeny Yevtushenko poems decrying problems such as anti-Semitism, the mistreatment of women and other kinds of oppression with widely disparate musical modes and scoring choices make it something of a “baggy monster” — as Henry James said of novels by Tolstoy, name-checked here by Yevtushenko. The orchestra and chorus fared superbly. A great artist, Matthias Goerne, remains too light of timbre and constrained in projection for the vocal part, which also demands far more idiomatic textual command.

For May 5’s all-Bruckner program, the refreshingly could-not-be-outer Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra imported a very strong vocal quartet for the 25 minute-long “Te Deum”: Elza van den Heever, Michelle DeYoung, Sean Panikkar and Ryan Speedo Green. Bruckner’s bombastic composition gave them — especially DeYoung, though a few robust notes came through — little satisfying to sing. Pannikar, often at his considerable best in more modern music, had the most substantial solos but was in scratchy vocal form. Green sounded splendid except for one swallowed low note. Soprano Van den Heever — on deck for Senta in the Met’s “Flying Dutchman” — provided welcomely on-pitch vocalism with some float.

The mighty Philadelphia Symphonic Choir reveled in this assignment and the composer’s far more attractive a cappella motet “Christus factus est” earlier in the afternoon.