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At the Metropolitan Opera nothing succeeds like excess. Take the lavish new version of Puccini’s not-so-lavish Trittico introduced on Friday. A release heralded as “the largest production in the Met’s history”. A glitzy audience numbering 4,000 applauded Douglas W. Schmidt’s glitzy scenery, often at the expense of the music. The intervals were endless, possibly because of cumbersome set changes. The curtain fell well after the midnight curfew. James Levine, the house-god in the pit, conducted as if Wagner were the real father of verismo.

The magnet, no doubt, was Jack O’Brien, the wizard who had directed Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia at the Lincoln Center Theater. He kept the action fluid, developed vital character- relationships and fussily updated the three one-acters to recent times, inventing some anachronisms in the process. (In a Gianni Schicchi moved to 1959, it seemed odd that anyone should worry about the inheritance of a mule.) O’Brien and his stolid cohorts stressed kitsch-grandeur throughout: a dockyard framed by a towering bridge for Il Tabarro, a sprawling cloister to envelop the intimate tragedy of Suor Angelica, a silly bedroom in Gianni Schicchi big enough for an airbus, with a bust of Dante crowning the false proscenium. At climax time they pushed the magic-Met button that sinks one set and lifts another, revealing a beatific vista of al-fresco Florence. Golly.

The singers did what they could to compete with the ponderous décors. Tabarro featured Maria Guleghina and Salvatore Licitra as earthy, somewhat strident lovers, and Frederick Burchinal (a late replacement for Juan Pons) as a rather strained Michele. Angelica found Barbara Frittoli ardent yet orderly as the suicidal nun. In Schicchi, Alessandro Corbelli led an amusing ensemble with incisive tone and a Danny Kaye mug. The innocents were Massimo Giordano – passionate – and Olga Mykytenko – charmless. Each of the operas was dominated by Stephanie Blythe, first as the grungy Frugola, then as the icy Principessa, finally as the bumbly Zita. One left loving her, and longing for the smart and simple Trittico created by James Robinson for the City Opera in 2002.
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