Music: Giacomo Puccini
Text: Giuseppe Adami (Tabarro), Giovacchino Forzano (Schicchi)
Director: James Conway (Tabarro), Liam Steel (Schicchi)
Conductor: Michael Rosewell
Designer: Neil Irish
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Puccini’s Il Trittico consists of three short operas, each coming in at just short of an hour, which provide a contrasting evening in the theatre: a realistic and tragic drama, a study of religious redemption, full of sentiment and spirituality, and a manic farce. The composer had the triptych well planned, but within two years of its premiere, It Trittico was being presented minus Suor Angelica, its central panel. That is the version that English Touring Opera has taken around the country and indeed in these days of restricted budgets and limited attention span, the full Il Trittico is a rarity, certainly in this country.
Il Tabarro (The Cloak) is Puccini’s late verismo masterpiece. On a barge docked in Paris dangerous passions simmer. Michele, the owner, is much older than his wife, Giorgetta, who is pursuing an affair with the stevedore Luigi. Michele’s suspicions grow to a tragic conclusion. Equally part of the verismo tradition is the depiction of the world of the poor on the banks of the Seine: the stevedores unload the barge and enjoy a glass of wine and a dance, a man with a barrel organ, a song peddler and two lovers pass, a bugle sounds from a neighboring barracks, the wife of one of the stevedores shows the results of her day’s scavenging. The life of Paris, in the suburbs and the garrets, is brought vibrantly to life: the song peddler has a song of Mimi and the orchestra reminds us of La Boheme. When the tragedy happens, it happens quickly and shockingly.
James Conway’s production does total justice to this wonderful piece. In Neil Irish’s drab and deliberately constricted set the characters push past each other in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the barge. Sarah-Jane Lewis’s soprano soars in hope and despair as Giorgetta, Charne Rochford’s passionate Luigi is always on the brink of melodrama; Craig Smith broods on revenge, denied even the occasional rays of optimism of the other two. All three sing with intensity without distorting the vocal line. Clarissa Meek (Frugola), Timothy Dawkins (Talpa) and Andrew Glover (Tinca) support superbly, the Meek and Dawkins double-act repeated in Gianni Schicchi as a very different pair of ageing eccentrics. Michael Rosewell paces the opera perfectly and obtains inspired playing from what looks to be a rather under-strength orchestra for Puccini, but turns out to have all the heft you could wish for.
Liam Steel’s production of Gianni Schicchi is splendidly imaginative and vivid, but a little more problematic. The story, taken from Dante’s Divine Comedy, though you’d never guess, concerns the death of Buoso Donati in Florence in 1299. All his relatives are set on getting his house, his mill and his mule, but he has been inconsiderate enough to leave it all to the monks of Signa. After much panic and posturing the cunning upstart Gianni Schicchi agrees to impersonate Buoso and dictate a revised will.
The characters are all caricatures anyway, except for Schicchi, his daughter Lauretta and her lover Rinuccio, the nicest of the Donatis, but Steel rather over-eggs the pudding, though he does it very well, in the most stylish and inventive way. Commedia d’arte white face goes along with approximately early 20th Century costumes and a whole range of funny walks and synchronized movements. It’s a bit much, but endlessly inventive and fitted perfectly to the music.
Andrew Slater’s Schicchi, in contrast, comes out as more of a decent chap than in some productions, not even overdoing the Buoso impersonations on the deathbed. The young lovers are also perfectly credible: Luciano Botelho’s ardent Rinuccio and Galina Averina’s Lauretta, wheedling her father beautifully with “O mio babbino caro”. Neil Irish’s set is full of witty and appealing detail and Rosewell’s musical treatment bubbles with life throughout.
Reviewed on 3 June 2018 | Image: Contributed