Puccini’s Il Trittico is a collection of three one act operas designed to be performed on a single evening. They rarely are. Perhaps this is because performing all three makes for a rather long evening (and for a huge cast) or maybe it’s because two of the three aren’t all that great. In any event, while most opera goers will likely have seen the comedy Gianni Schicchi, most will likely not have seen the two tragedies that precede it; Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica. However, all three works were performed as a triple bill at the Royal Opera House in 2011. The show was broadcast by the BBC and is available on Blu-ray and DVD. All three pieces were directed by Richard Jones and Anthony Pappano conducted.
The first opera, Il Tabarro is very mush a verismo piece. It’s a story of working class people working a river barge on the Seine. It’s a gritty murder love triangle and could have been written by Zola but for the inevitable sentimentalism that creeps in. On this disk, the principal characters are given fine performances by Lucio Gallo as the older husband Michele, Eva-Maria Westbroek as his young wife Giorgetta and Aleksandrs Antonenko as her lover Luigi. The highly cinematic (in a good way) music is given Pappano’s characteristic full throttle Puccini treatment. The production is typical Jones; it’s straightforward and careful without ever seeming to have much to say. It’s all straightforwardly enjoyable in a Snidely Whiplash with music sort of way.
Suor Angelica is pure Catholic kitsch. Jones setting it in the ward of a children’s hospital with lots of winsome little boys does nothing to downplay this. It’s also a good candidate for Dodgy Theology Night at the Opera. To sum it up briefly. Angelica is an aristocrat who has been placed in a convent by her relatives for disgracing the family by having an illegitimate son. She has become the herbalist. Seven years later her guardian aunt arrives to sort out some kind of inheritance deal. Angelica learns her child is dead and decides to “join him in Heaven”. Having popped the pills she realises (all of a sudden) that this is a mortal sin and that she is damned. She prays for redemption and all kind of soupy musical clues that she is saved appear. Musically it’s a vehicle for typically Pucciniesque female hysterics plus lots of angelic off stage nunnery. It’s schlock but this all female cast gives it a good shot with especially fine performances from Ermonela Jaho as Angelica and Anna Larsson as a thoroughly unpleasant Princess.
Gianni Schicchi has rather more going for it (libretto from Dante helps). Jones has chosen to update the piece to maybe the 1970s. Buoso Donati expires from excitement when a goal is scored during a televised football game. Oddly, this is the exact same opening gambit that Catherine Malfitano used in her COC production. Actually there were lots of times during this performance when I got the same sense of deja vu. Maybe there are only so many ways one can do Schicchi straight? Anyway, straight this is and it’s well acted and quite funny. At the heart of it is Lucio Gallo’s rather John Cleese like Schicchi. He is a sort of wide eyed, manically grinning schemer and pretty effective. Francesco Demuro does a pretty much copybook Romantic Italian tenor thing as Rinuccio and Ekaterina Siurina is well cast as Lauretta. She sings beautifully and looks good but I’ve heard a great deal more slyness put into O mio babbino caro. She does sing it rather like a concert aria rather than in dramatic context. Simone Osborne got inside this so much better (but then her father is a lawyer so she probably had practice). All up then, an enjoyable, if hardly revelatory, performance of a fun piece.
Video direction is by Franceska Kemp and it’s pretty decent. The sets are fairly confined for the most part which makes life easier and apart, maybe, from a surplus of “mad staring eyes” shots of Lucio Gallo in the first and third pieces she’s pretty judicious. The picture and DTS surround sound (on DVD) are pretty good but a bit disappointing for something that was recorded in true HD and true surround sound. I should like to see the Blu-ray for comparison. Each piece gets a short introduction from Pappano. If you have seen any of his other BBC broadcasts you know what to expect. The booklet has casts, synopses and a short essay but no track listings. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Spanish and Italian.