On March 5, 2022, the Frost Opera School at the University of Miami presented the world premiere of Michael Dellaira and JD McClatchy’s adaptation of “The Leopard”. This new work stages the novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, which has since become an essential work of Italian literature, poignantly depicting the decline of the nobility during the Risorgimento. Led by maestro Gerard Schwarz, the cast included a number of seasoned performers, joined by students from the opera program.
Leading the cast was Kim Josephson as the titular Prince of Salina. From the moment he entered, he showed a character with great emotional investment not only in the well-being of his immediate family, but also in the future of the Italian states. Lively in tone and articulate in gesture, he made an excellent partner for most singers, and his approaches to dealing with their many perspectives and personalities were also multifaceted.
In the role of Tancredi Falconeri, tenor Minghao Liu finely translated the passionate nature of the prince’s nephew. His entry carrying wounded Cavriaghi allowed him to display clear and fiery tones as he expressed his belief in revolution and the changing times. With Yang’s Angelica, this passion translated well into romantic moments like their sweet encounter at the ball, or when he proudly declared his love with the phrase “My name, my sword and my life.” Liu has consistently made the most of these examples, bringing authenticity as Tancredi himself changes over the years.
As Don Calogero’s daughter Angelica, soprano Yaqi Yang was supremely charming as she captured her heart’s desire with clear, excited tones and often playful energy. This endearing aspect of her character made a beautiful contrast when moments of happiness for her, such as her debut at the ball and Tancredi’s marriage proposal, often aroused great distress in the other characters and the orchestra, reinforcing the feeling of impending fall of the family. Through moments like these, Yang showed an exuberant, soaring soprano that danced to the edge of texture.
As Don Calogero, the rising mayor of Donnafugata, baritone Thandolwethu Mamba masked the don’s ambitions beautifully with chilling refinement in poise and voice. Her interactions with the prince were almost like a duel of wills, with each side very politely trying to use the other for their ends. His robust voice kept him present during the set moments, and although Mamba himself was only about half the age the don is supposed to be, this younger portrayal visually supported Calogero as part of the nouveau riche that he represents. Moments of note include the brief trio between him, the prince and Father Pirrone as he pleaded for the presentation of his daughter, and when he made a grand gesture by bestowing Angelica with a dowry to help seal the deal. marriage agreement.
In the role of Concetta, the prince’s daughter, soprano Margarita Parsamyan poignantly carried much drama as a rejected woman in love and as the eventual survivor of the family, whose perspective becomes the lens through which we see the state in which they fall. open and close work. Here, we see an aggrieved scene between her, her sisters, and the now royal Angelica, which cemented the reversal of fortunes between the two women. For the brevity of many of the previous issues, this one in particular felt like it had more time to flesh things out and yet it spent it on having the character just repeat their thoughts and intentions , though it builds into a powerful and painful moment from Parsamyan as she laments all that has happened since. Her arc from happiness to heartbreak over the years was deeply touching for one who was often a spectator of the events, which made it all the more impactful when she cried over her own lack of agency.
Certain conventions familiar to opera were very well played, such as the comic character of the priest, Father Pirrone. Frank Ragsdale’s portrayal was often a source of humor as the exasperated priest cried out his concerns over the nation’s troubles and the plight of the prince’s family. The same could be said for Robynne Redmond as the Prince’s wife, Stella. Her plush mezzo-soprano often beamed as the mother fretted over many concerns to comic effect. A notable moment came during the ensemble number at the ball where, as Calogero discussed the army’s approach and what would follow, Stella was making a loud mocking of his breaches of etiquette and the way to dress, showing the disparity of interests between the classes.
The stage was often filled with characters who lent their voices and emotions to the set, such as tenor Kevin Gwinn as Tancredi’s friend Count Cavriaghi; sopranos Abby Guido and Mia Flora as Prince’s daughters Caterina and Carolina, respectively; and mezzo Caroline Morale Mejia as Francesco Paolo’s pants.
The music itself carried a number of traditional and relatively modern aspects, being composed through and often directly conveying the emotions of the character developed through patterns. While not lacking in expression, there were times when it seemed like the brevity of the musical numbers didn’t allow for deepening the character’s inner worlds. Instead, much of it was revealed by momentary freezes in the drama, almost always indicated by a wash of purple lighting, where the characters reflected on their thoughts alone; there were times, however, when this technique was broken and the characters could imbue the border, or at least attempt to, such as when Concetta couldn’t reach the newly smitten Tancredi, clutching him from behind with no result or reaction.
A notable aspect of the music was its focus on transient material, where the orchestra would play a theme or idea, repeat it as its corresponding emotion played out, and then introduce a new musical figure that would enter the texture. and would start driving her somewhere else, rinse and repeat. While this worked well in moments when the perspective shifts and we peer into the other character’s thoughts, there were times when it reinforced the sense of wanderlust created by the frequent changes of location and location. scene. An example of this came when Angelica and Tancredi flirt and caress in an empty wing of the estate for only a minute or so before extras gather the set to lead us back to the main bedrooms.
The work itself opened with a very brief silent auction after 1910, showing the estate’s ultimate dissolution, before taking us to 1910 where the old Concetta remembers the events of history until she catches up towards the end of the final act. . While one could debate the pros and cons of having a flashback within a flashback, perspectives wandered more in a personal and geographical sense than a temporal one; I wondered much less when we were than where we were or where we were going next, having missed a couple of locale changes heralded by the supertitles which, simply because of my place in the front rows, went a little over the edge from my periphery.
The character lines were delivered through an almost constant parlando that, while blurring the lines between the worlds of dialogue and vocals, often blended together in a way that softened the passion of the numbers. The booklet itself was in English except for a handful of lines from the children’s French tutor, and while that made it easier to follow without the supertitles, I couldn’t help but find it contradictory in a work where the Italian identity is so important. The text of the novel itself is rich in imagery and contemplation, and in such a style that one can generally tell what has been translated from the author and what is from the librettist. There were also times when the characters seemingly didn’t introduce themselves to anyone, being delivered in frozen moments of introspection. An example of this was Angelica’s introduction to the ballroom, repeating “I am Angelica!” I’m so happy to be here,” for herself; another was Cavaliere Chevalley’s introduction where he states his name, function and titles to the audience, but this last example was done in a way that made it feel like more of an irreverent reflection on the pumps from his position, rather than presenting himself.
Overall, there was a lot to enjoy in this compelling take on Lampedusa’s novel, from the highly expressive music to the highly promising cast of young artists backed by seasoned professionals. For themes and setting that ring close to so many opera classics we hold dear, much of the work felt right at home in the medium, and one could almost forget that Saturday’s performance was the world premiere and not the presentation of many older and neglected work. I can see Dellaira and McClatchy’s “The Leopard” working very well in schools and conservatories where the wide cast and changing perspective affords students brief but ample musical opportunities to show off their respective gifts. While there are inevitably some differences from its source material in terms of tone and execution, this adaptation highlights and celebrates many of the qualities that make the opera such a unique and captivating way to share stories.