Puccini’s Alpha and Omega

A voluptuous spinto soprano guides from first to last

In an intriguing variation on the opera-in-concert formula, the Collegiate Chorale’s next concert samples the beginning and end of Giacomo Puccini’s career as an opera composer.

The program kicks off with “Le Villi,” which Puccini wrote in 1882 as a contestant in a competition for student composers. He lost the contest, but the opera caught the attention of music publisher Giulio Ricordi, who produced “Le Villi” at a small theater in Milan. The opera was so successful that La Scala took it up the following year, and Puccini’s career was triumphantly launched.

This short, atmospheric piece is a variation on the “Giselle” story, in which a jilted ingénue (Aprile Millo) returns as a ghost to force her faithless lover (Franco Farina) to dance himself to death.

Though their characters both die in “Le Villi,” Farina and Millo will revive after the intermission to return as the stars of Puccini’s final, unfinished opera. In this performance of the third act of “Turandot,” they are joined by soprano Hei-Kyung Hong as the self-sacrificing Liu.

This performance will offer the contrast of the world’s most familiar aria––”Nessun dorma,” sung by Farina––and the New York premiere of a new finale to the opera created by avant-garde composer Luciano Berio.

Not only are the works themselves fascinating, but this concert also offers the opportunity to hear Millo’s first performances anywhere of Anna in “Le Villi” and the title role in “Turandot.” In recent years, the soprano has become something of a specialist in the music of Puccini and his contemporaries, singing “Tosca” at the Metropolitan Opera and “La Gioconda,” “Adriana Lecouvreur,” and “La fanciulla del West” with the Opera Orchestra of New York.

Millo’s voluptuous spinto soprano voice and old-school style are the stuff that attracted so many of us to opera in the first place––qualities that, apart from her, are in short supply in today’s performers.

James Jorden is the producer of the podcast “Unnatural Acts of Opera” at parterre.com.

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