I saw *L’Amore dei Tre Rei* (“The Love of Three Kings”) at the New York City Opera on 4/13/18. I had next to no familiarity with the opera, I just knew it was an overheated Italian melodrama from the early 20th century. I thought I’d take a chance and check it out.
The music is by Italo Montemezzi, a composer I’d never heard of outside of the context of this opera. The libretto is by Sem Benelli, based on his play. It became a worldwide sensation when it premiered in 1913, which just shows you how tastes change! I thought it was hilarious - - I chuckled aloud a few times, but was able to restrain myself from snorting.
The story is about a hot-blooded Italian woman (Floria, soprano) who’s married to a Baron (Manfredo, baritone) but is sleeping with a stud (Avito, tenor). She’s getting away with it pretty well, but her father-in-law (Archibaldo, bass) is onto her. Pretty impressive, considering he’s blind. I won’t tell you the whole story, but it’s a hotbed of deception, thwarted romance, and murder.
My favorite moment happened early on - - the father had a scene with his servant and sang an aria about how much he and his friends loved Italy when they were young. The thing that tickled me was the way the aria was set up. There was a slight pause, and then the character basically said, “OK, people, I’m gonna sing a ARIA.” So overt, so full throttle, so amusing! It helped that the singer playing the role, Philip Cokorinos, was my favorite in the cast. He was clearly having a great time. He seemed to know it was camp but was still playing it straight (not a bad trick). Rather like Adam West as Batman!
Joo Won Kang was my other favorite, he played the baritone husband. His voice was tangy, he sang like there was no tomorrow.
Giuseppe Varano was the stud tenor, and I wasn’t wild for him. Nice voice, very secure and well-produced, but not a lot of panache or subtlety. There were a few moments when he made a wide-open, rugged, slightly desperate sound that made me uneasy. If Montemezzi is the poor man’s Puccini, this guy was the poor man’s Jose Carreras.
Daria Masiero was the leading lady. I saved her for last because she had so little to do! I wrote Richard a text from the first intermission: “The soprano had better have an aria in the next act. This show is a real sausage party.” And would you believe she NEVER got an aria? Each of the three guys had arias, what do you suppose Montemezzi had against the woman who created this role? And wouldn’t you think that he would be required by Italian LAW to write an aria for the soprano?