Music: Giacomo Puccini
Libretto: Giuseppe Adami and Giovacchino Forzano
Director: David Pountney and Michael Barker-Caven
Conductor: Jac van Steen
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
In the current programme of Opera North shows at The Lowry the double bill of Il Tabarro / Suor Angelica feels like the runt of the litter. After all the other shows are more famous, have lavish sets and last for up to four hours while neither of the operas tonight runs for more than an hour. This only goes to show that you shouldn’t rush to judgement – this is full blown melodramatic opera of the highest quality.
The only element that the two shows have in common is an O Henry style twist that leads to tragedy; otherwise they are sharply different. Director David Pountney sets a mood of film noir for Il Tabarro( The Cloak) seemingly taking inspiration from James M Cain’s sweaty pulp novels of shabby infidelity and murder. The lives of the workers employed by bargeman Michele (Ivan Inverardi) are nasty, brutish and short; one drinks himself insensible while another hides behind dreams of retirement that are unlikely to be realised. Michele’s marriage to Giorgetta (Giselle Allen) has gone stale – his, ahem, pipe refuse to light and she has turned for comfort to Luigi (David Butt Philip). A chance mishap reveals the affair with tragic consequences.
Puccini’s crashing thunderous score conveys the tumultuous emotions that the characters are struggling to hold in check. It is an emotionally devastating experience to have such raw passion blasting out across the theatre.
Giselle Allen and David Butt Philip have real chemistry that catches the sense of a love affair that is too dangerous to continue but too passionate to conclude. Despite the quality of these performances Ivan Inverardi’s tormented Michele steals the show with a terrifying display of vengeance.
Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) is set in a convent and opens gently with the nuns mediating on the beauty of the sunset reflected in a pool of water. The mood does not last; the nuns have one vice – they like to gossip about the single thing they miss most from their lives before taking Holy Orders. Sister Angelica claims to have no such desires but a surprise visitor from her past reveals secrets she has concealed and passions that she can barely acknowledge.
Emotions in Suor Angelica are not so much repressed as drained. Director Michael Barker-Caven presents a world devoid of colour and pleasure. The pale white and grey costumes and sets by Hannah Clark have a weary washed out feel. The only splash of colour comes from a character with the dress sense and personal charm of Hillary Clinton.
Barker-Caven builds the suspense slowly moving gently towards a shattering climax. This is achieved through blazing vocals from Anne-Sophie Duprels as the tormented Sister Angelica whose loss is so great as to tempt her towards damnation.
Raw emotion and high melodrama – this is what opera is all about.
Reviewed on 11th November 2016 | Image: Tristram Kenton