Patricia Racette Shines in 'Suor Angelica'

11.24.09
Patricia Racette
Associated Press

By Ronald Blum

Patricia Racette had just sung her moving final notes in "Suor Angelica" and fallen to the stage.

Around the Metropolitan Opera House, a significant segment of the audience was wiping away tears.

Racette took on the rare task of singing all three soprano leads in Puccini's "Il Trittico," three one-act operas of melodrama, tragedy and comedy. Her shattering performance as the nun was the highlight of the night and one of the high points of her career.

Her gleaming soprano melded perfectly with her performance of a tortured soul during Friday night's performance, the opening of a revival that extends through Dec. 12. The descent of Angelica beginning with her aria "Senza mamma (Without his mother)," was breathtaking.

Angelica enters a convent after giving birth to an out-of-wedlock child and shaming her family. After hearing nothing from her family for seven years, she is shaken up by the arrival of her aunt, the Princess, who wants her to sign over her share of the estate to her sister, who is getting married.

Angelica learns her boy died of an illness two years earlier. Grief-stricken, she drinks poison so she can join her son in heaven, then realizes she will die in sin because she committed suicide. Her pleas to the Virgin Mary for a sign of salvation are met, and her son walks out of the church as she dies.

Racette's cries of "Dannata! (I am damned!) and "Salvami! (Save Me!)" were heart-wrenching. Helping set up her end was the equally extraordinary Princess of mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, a hurricane of fierce voice and stern acting.

"Trittico" had its world premiere at the Met in 1918 with Claudia Muzio (Giorgetta), Geraldine Farrar (Angelica) and Florence Easton (Lauretta) singing the three female leads. Before now, the only women to take on the trio at the Met in the same performance were Renata Scotto (1975-76 and 1981-82) and Teresa Stratas (1989-90).

Racette was forceful if not as overwhelming as Giorgetta, the French barge-owner's wife whose affair with the deck hand Luigi is exposed in the opening "Il Tabarro (The Cloak)." Now in her mid-40s, she is a bit too old for Lauretta, the teenage girlfriend of Rinuccio whose "O mio babbino caro" in "Gianni Schicchi" is the opera's best-known music.

She also sang all three at the San Francisco Opera earlier this season, and Angelica could be her most in-demand portrayal over the next few years.

Blythe sang three roles, too, as she did when this Jack O'Brien production premiered in April 2007. She was impressive as Frugola, the frumpy wife of a stevedore in "Il Tabarro," and had many of the funniest comic turns as Zita in "Gianni Schicchi."

Baritone Alessandro Corbelli repeated his sharp comic performance in the title role of "Gianni Schicchi," and Saimir Pirgu made an impressive Met debut with a focused, pingy tenor as Rinuccio, a role he sang in the Woody Allen production at the Los Angeles Opera last year.

In "Il Tabarro," baritone Zeljko Lucic was strong at the start as the wronged Michele but ran out of voice by the end, and tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko was a bland Luigi.

Conductor Stefano Ranzani made his Met debut in the pit. His tempi seemed a bit slow at times and there was little sweep to his account of Puccini's score. Douglas W. Schmidt's sets, among the Met's most handsome, drew applause at the start of all three acts.