Il trittico - Royal Opera House, 14 September 2011
How do you handle a death in the family? Try to blot it out in sex without love (Giorgetta in Il tabarro)? Seek solace in religion without faith (Suor Angelica)? Or do you just treat it as a business opportunity, money without scruples (Gianni Schicchi)?
I'd never seen the three operas of Il trittico together until I caught the second night of Richard Jones's new production. And I'd never understood why some people say they should never be separated. But Jones and Pappano bring out the underlying dramatic and musical unity with such clarity that I shall never again be able to contemplate them as butchered chunks.
Giorgetta's time-dulled pain is beautifully captured in the murky, realistic set and undemonstrative acting style of Jones's Il tabarro. For Suor Angelica, the vast, cathedral like space of a convent infirmary (in place of the prescribed cloisters) is coldly lit. It's filled with a bustle of bodies, but their clipped, almost mechanical movements are dehumanised. And are the rows of bed-bound patients really all boys the same age as Angelica's lost son - or is that just how she sees them?
Jones's Gianni Schicchi has been seen before, but familiarity has not dulled its charms. The riotous parade of venal humanity remains as vividly characterised as on both previous outings. The leaking ceiling, worn wallpaper and stained sheets testify to the long and full life of the recent corpse. One of Jones's typically well-observed details, the misbehaving child banished from the room, takes on a new dimension after the preceding operas.
Like Jones, Pappano finds a different colour for each work. He is gradually discovering how to do more with less, so essential in Puccini, where emotion can easily tip over into vulgar sentimentality. Transitions are understated but telling; the narrative flows. After some early issues with balance, the orchestra played immaculately for him.
Il tabarro benefits from a fine ensemble cast, headed by Eva-Maria Westbroek as Giorgetta. There's not much Italianate about her voice, but somehow she brings a real dramatic honesty to Puccini's characters - no exception here. The beefy Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko tends more the heroic than to the lyrical quality required here, but it's undoubtedly some voice. I look forward to his Otello next year. Lucio Gallo is well-cast as the brooding Michele and Irina Mishura makes an ear-catching Frugola.
Tiny Ermonela Jaho is the undoubted star of the evening, anchoring Suor Angelica with her troubled intensity and magnetism. A tremulous vibrato in her crystalline soprano only adds to the impression of over-tested fragility about to crack. Anna Larsson, bent like a praying mantis, swathed in dead fox, adds her velvety contralto to the the part of the the Principessa.
As Gianni Schicchi, Lucio Gallo has the misfortune of following in the footsteps of the unimpeachably perfect Bryn Terfel and Thomas Allen. But Gallo is considerably more than adequate, and his essential amiability ensures audience sympathies are appropriately directed. Anna Devin made the most of her opportunity to sub for the indisposed Ekaterina Siurina with a charming and assured Lauretta. Francesco Demuro sang Rinuccio with buckets of style, but missed the centre of too many notes for comfort. Amongst the third terrific ensemble cast of the evening, Elena Zilio as the bossy matriarch Zita nearly stole the show as she has done on both previous outings.
A perfect start to the season.
Gianni Schicchi curtain call: