Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


IL PICCOLO MARAT by Pietro Mascagni. Presented in concert by Teatro Grattacielo at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, Monday, April 13th, 2009.

Teatro Grattacielo is an opera company that not only does not look down at the "unfashionable" composers of verismo and other works [late 19th to early 20th century] but especially champions the work of the great Pietro Mascagni, whose first opera, Cavalleria rusticana, has become an opera house perennial across the globe. Finally people are beginning to realize that Mascagni was far from a"one-hit wonder," but rather composed a great number of striking operatic works, including this one. Il piccolo Marat (Little Marat) takes place during the French revolution where a prince in disguise -- the title character -- hopes to save his imprisoned mother even as he falls in love with Mariella, the niece of the cruel "Ogre" who would just as soon see his mother and many, many others die cruel deaths. With thunderous choruses, both lyrical and modern touches, a gorgeous love duet, and much, much beautiful music, all one can say about the North American premiere of this opera is that it's about time.

Teatro Grattacielo provided us with a first-rate concert performance of this opera, which premiered in Italy in 1921. The orchestra was packed -- this is a much bigger house than Alice Tully Hall, where Teatro G usually has its performances -- and the crowd gave the work and its performers a standing ovation at the end. The singers were wonderful: tenor Richard Crawley, who stepped in at the last minute and was on top of the difficult role throughout; bass Brian Jauhiainen, who also stepped in late, and offered a dramatic interpretation of the miserable Ogre; soprano Paula Delligatti (pictured), whose lovely voice well-served Mariella; and mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Batton, whose fine voice gave life to the prince's mother. Daniel Lee and Joshua Benaim were also notable, as was the Cantori New York and Long Island University Chorus who thundered out Mascagni's powerful and stirring chorale writing -- there's a lot of powerful stuff in this opera, but Mascagni's trademark sensitivity is also much in evidence.

Music Director David Wroe, who conducted, almost literally threw himself into the score, leading the orchestra to bring out the values -- both the intensity and the sweetness -- in every vivid note of this early 20th century masterpiece.

What's next? Dare we hope for Mascagni's Parisina? Whatever, let's hope that Teatro Grattacielo keeps up the great work!

Verdict: Rousing stuff, well-served. ****.

NOTE: For more about Il piccolo Marat and Mascagni [who rates a whole chapter], see my book Opera of the Twentieth Century. I also wrote a piece on Mascagni for BBC Music Magazine some years back. -- William Schoell

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