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Opera ensemble gets high marks

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Clara Hurtado, left, joins Jill Dewsnup, who sings title role in "Suor."

Clara Hurtado, left, joins Jill Dewsnup, who sings title role in “Suor.”

Utah Lyric Opera


"Il Trittico" ("The Triptych") is Puccini's sole work that has never achieved widespread popularity with audiences. When performed as the composer intended, this triple bill of one-act operas is a study in contrasts.

"Il Tabarro," the first of the three, is a dark, brooding drama, while the tragic "Suor Angelica" is in the same sentimental vein as "Madama Butterfly," although with an added religious element. "Gianni Schicchi," on the other hand, gives a rare glimpse into Puccini's comedic talents.

Rather than performing all three operas, which makes for a rather long evening, the University of Utah's Lyric Opera Ensemble last weekend opted to present "Suor Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi" in English. Both were well performed by the youthful cast. The singing was of a high caliber, and the acting was equally remarkable.

Robert Baldwin conducted members of the Utah Philharmonia. While his pacing and tempos were generally on the mark — particularly in "Gianni Schicchi" — he needed to tone down the playing, since many of the voices in both operas were frequently overpowered.

In "Suor Angelica," the title character has joined a convent after having given birth to a child out of wedlock. But rather than viewing life as a nun as a way of expiating her sin, Angelica sees it as a punishment. When her aunt visits and tells her that her son had become gravely ill and died two years earlier, Angelica no longer sees any reason to live. She commits suicide, but rather than being condemned for taking her own life, Angelica is forgiven by the Madonna, and her son, dressed in white, walks towards her as she is dying.

The sentimentality of the story can be hard to swallow for contemporary audiences, yet this production, thanks to the cast and stage director Hugh Hanson, makes Angelica's heart-rending tragedy seem sincere.

Friday evening, soprano Jill Dewsnup gave a dynamic performance of the title character. Her powerful singing, while sometimes lacking lyricism, nevertheless brought compelling earnestness and passion to the role.

Mezzo-soprano Josette Cross was persuasive as Angelica's stern and unbending aunt. Her rich voice brought dramatic force to her role.

Among the other characters, Felicia Lundie (Abbess), Rachel Webster (Monitor) and Rachel Duff (Mistress of Novices) were also wonderful.

"Gianni Schicchi" is a timeless tale of unbridled greed. Buoso Donati has just died. His relatives are present, and as soon as he breathed his last, they go on a mad search for his will. When they finally discover and read it, they are shocked to learn he left his fortune to a monastery. They call for Gianni Schicchi, who schemes with them to change the will. But he has an ulterior motive, and he outfoxes everyone. Disguised as Donati, Schicchi dictates a new will to the attorney, and requests the bulk of the estate go to Schicchi, which he will use as a dowry for his daughter Lauretta, when she marries Rinuccio.

Friday's cast glittered in this lighthearted comedy. Baritone Seth Kershisnik found his niche in the title role. He brought a captivating sparkle to his character .

Soprano Lisa Prina (Lauretta) sang the most famous aria to come out of "Il Trittico," "O mio babbino caro," with coquettish charm.

Everyone in the cast was dazzling. Blair Ball (Zita), Scott Brunscheen (Rinuccio), Anthony Buck (Gherardo), Laurel James (Nella) and Chantel Allen (Gherardino) were especially noteworthy for their singing and acting.

E-mail: ereichel@desnews.com