Puccini’s penultimate opera, actually a triptych of one-act operas, is being mounted by the Lyric as a whole for the first time. Two parts have been presented here before, each paired with one-act operas by other composers, but what Puccini had in mind when he penned all three was an evening of musical theater in which the expressive mode shifts rather swiftly and seamlessly from Grand Guignol melodrama (Il tabarro) to ironic tragedy (Suor Angelica) to mordant farce (Gianni Schicchi). Central to the whole undertaking is the soprano who customarily takes on the female leads in all three: she must elicit pity and sympathy, in unequal doses, as the unfaithful wife frustrated by her marriage to an older man (Giorgetta in Il tabarro), as the penitent nun with a shameful past (Sister Angelica), and as the innocent, hopeful daughter for whom daddy Gianni wangles a dowry (Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi). Each role requires singing that pays close attention to the character’s psychological state–a strategy that aligned Puccini with Schoenberg and Berg–though some of the arias, especially the justly ubiquitous “O mio babbino caro,” can still dazzle with their simple beauty. In this production, imported from a Belgian opera house, the soprano is Catherine Malfitano, whose previous outings at Lyric included a stunningly seductive Lulu (in Berg’s opera of that name), a maddeningly greedy and lusty Trina (in McTeague), and a disappointingly enigmatic Emilia Marty (in The Makropulos Affair last season). Malfitano’s voice is not as pure and radiant as those of the best divas working today, but it’s supple and dramatic enough to convey the torment and anxiety gripping most of the heroines of modern opera. (How she’ll do as the sweet, spunky Lauretta is my biggest question.) The Lyric has surrounded her with reputable tenors and baritones, but the pallid Icelandic tenor Kristjan Johannsson seems miscast as Giorgetta’s brawny lover, and Rolando Panerai (as Schicchi), who hasn’t sung in the U.S. in three decades, and relative newcomer Roberto Aronica (as Rinuccio, Lauretta’s love interest) are question marks. Bruno Bartoletti, who did a creditable job pacing these disparate operas on a recent CD (on London Records), conducts. Monday and next Friday, October 4, 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 332-2244.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Catherine Malfitano photo by John Swannell.