by Nicholas Jones
The opera, Puccini’s first, is deservedly obscure. It was premiered as a one-act in Milan in 1884 (playing contrabass in the pit was the 21-year old Pietro Mascagni, who six years later was to compose Cavalleria Rusticana, a much more lasting one-act). The Italian music publisher Ricordi urged Puccini to expand Le Villi, and the resulting two-act version is what was performed this weekend. Despite Puccini’s already apparent eye for emotion, the opera feels both overwrought in its passion and slim on human narrative.
The action is far from the verismo naturalism that underlies, and grounds, Puccini’s greater operas. Set in a fairyland German forest, the opera begins with Roberto (tenor Matthew Miles) leaving his village to collect an unexpected legacy from an aunt in the city. His fiancée is Anna (Opera Circle executive director and soprano Dorota Sobieska) who has a bad feeling about his departure. Roberto’s impassioned pleas (“never doubt my love!”) do not assuage her fears. Nonetheless, her father Guglielmo (baritone Jeremy Gilpatric) joins the villagers in a dance and then a prayer for the couple. [Read more…]