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From Ocean’s Floor


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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Il Trittico  
Cast listing below review
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano
rec. live, Royal Opera House, 19, 23 September 2011
Richard Jones (director)
Region Code: 0; Aspect Ratio 16:9; LPCM Stereo; DTS 5.1 Surround
OPUS ARTE OA1070D DVD [181:00]

Experience Classicsonline

Puccini’s Trittico is a bit of an odd-one out among his works, dating from that rather tricky period of his career that also featured Rondine and Fanciulla. This triptych is performed even less frequently than those works because it requires three sets, casts and visions. Before this production of September 2011, Covent Garden hadn’t performed it since 1965. That they did so now was due to two factors. Firstly, Richard Jones had already produced Gianni Schicchi for them so some of the work was already done. Secondly, however, the idea of a cycle appealed to the Royal Opera management in the season of the Olympics so they performed the whole set as part of Covent Garden’s contribution to the Cultural Olympiad. There is little to link the three operas in Jones’ vision and you might find some touches of his staging somewhat irritating, but the musical values are so strong that you’ll still find yourself coming back to this Trittico again and again.
I was lucky enough to see this production as a birthday treat to myself. On the night it was Tabarro that made the biggest impression on me, and watching it again on disc I still found it thrilling. It is the closest Puccini got to writing a psychodrama, and in this performance its power to stun is turned up to eleven. Jones’ production was inspired by the austere woodcuts of Frans Masereel and his black-and-white set forms a grave backdrop for this family tragedy. Michele’s barge sits moored in a seedy part of Paris, grey and ominous with the lights of a strip joint dimly visible. Almost the only colour is provided by Giorgetta’s dress, cheap and dowdy, a sign of this character’s love of life which has been all but squeezed out of her by her cramped existence with Michele. The three lead characters are all in some way trapped, and the three principals here are outstanding. Lucio Gallo sings Michele with lyrical beauty, achieving wonderful sympathy in the duet where he fails to spark Giorgetta’s affection, but then turning to dangerous malice as he tries to imagine the identity of her lover. He evokes sympathy for this sometimes one-dimensional character while consistently reminding us that this is a man whose prime is past and who can no longer satisfy his wife. Her smouldering sensuality is brilliantly captured by Eva-Maria Westbroek, who seems constantly to strain against the bounds of the world in which she is constrained. The beauty of her voice is matched by the exhilarating tenor of Aleksanders Antonenko, making an outstanding house debut as Luigi. His (slightly bizarre) scena where he rails against the oppression of the workers comes off very successfully because of the brilliant power of his voice, and he and Westbroek strike sparks off each other in their duets. The exuberance of their description of city life is impossible to contain, and their duets where they make plans to elope are hair-raising. Anchoring everything, however, is the expert direction of Pappano in the pit. This whole set proves him to be a Puccini interpreter of the highest order, and it is in Tabarro that he does this most successfully. It’s a commonplace that Puccini constructs the work like a steadily tightening screw, but Pappano shows that this view is too simple: instead he brings out the ebb and flow of the piece. After all, there is a whole array of cameos on hand, and often the tension is broken by local colour or by off-stage lovers. Pappano not only builds up the tension - the final scene is wonderfully taut - but he also builds in natural climaxes, such as in Luigi and Giorgetta’s description of Belville or of hope, cruelly snatched away, expressed in the married couple’s duet as Michele holds out the hope of rekindling their love. By the way, just after that sequence listen to the power of the swirling strings as Michele imagines plunging into the abyss with his wife’s lover, showcasing the fact that the orchestra buy into Pappano’s vision completely. It’s worth acquiring the set for this disc alone as it shows Puccini and all the performers at their considerable best.
In many ways the project began with Gianni Schicchi: Jones’ production first appeared in 2007 paired, somewhat quirkily, with Ravel’s L’heure Espagnole. True, the casting in this revival isn’t as strong as it is in the other operas. Gallo does have a comic gift but is prone to over-egging the pudding at times, and his voice, while lyrical, doesn’t suit humour quite as well. The young lovers sing their arias capably enough, but Demuro’s tenor is brittle, particularly at the top, while Siurina’s pitching isn’t always accurate. However, this is an ensemble opera if ever there was one, and the cast of relatives is fantastic, blending as a wonderfully convincing whole. They are led by Elena Zilio as a palpably avaricious Zita, while poor Gwynne Howell is brow-beaten and trampled as Simone, even if he is supposed to be the eldest! Marie McLaughlin is a vampish Ciesca, and the other men seem to radiate the grimy patina of cigarette smoke in their sleazy venality. Jones’ production moves quickly and milks the laughs so that it is more colourful and more comical than Glyndebourne’s 2004 production, also available on Opus Arte DVD. Pappano’s conducting talents are made for this score, bringing it to fizzing, bustling life in every bar. 

With two such energetic outer operas, it’s not surprising that the central panel of the triptych should be something altogether more restrained, contemplative and, in consequence, more neglected. Suor Angelica has never had the popularity of its companions, but this performance deserves to win it many friends. As a piece of sentiment it’s unsurpassed, particularly if you’re prepared to yield yourself up to it. There are moments of the interaction between the nuns that I found strangely moving. The composer’s sister was a nun and apparently he played the piece to the sisters at her convent, an experience they must have found very affecting. Jones’ setting for this convent is also a children’s hospital, a nice touch which underlines Angelica’s love of her own child. The set is shot through with an antiseptic shade of green. The nuns’ wimples are frilly to the extent of being a little over-indulgent. However, Jones botches the ending by removing any element of the supernatural: we hear the off-stage chorus to the virgin but Angelica dies in hysteria surrounded by the other nuns. She gets to embrace one of the patients but this is no substitute for her own son. I couldn’t help but feel that the end of the opera was a little nasty; anachronistically out of keeping with the beauty of Puccini’s music. The title role in this production was originally meant for Anja Harteros, but after her withdrawal it was taken by Ermonela Jaho, who had herself first come to fame as a replacement Violetta when Anna Netrebko had to cry off. She is outstanding as the tortured nun, atoning in the convent for the sin of bearing a child outside wedlock. She acts the role with an element of distraction, as if her mind is always on other things, but she pulls out the dramatic big guns for the key scene with the Princess. In fact, she seems almost to lose self-possession when she confronts her aunt about the son that was taken from her. Even as she takes her final curtain call she is clearly still deeply affected by the experience of singing the role. The voice is lyrical and beautiful, with a slight touch of steel where necessary. She is heartbreaking when she learns of her son’s death, both in action and in voice. Senza mamma is most touching, sung with utmost security and lyricism and unafraid of a genuine pianissimo which is used to beautiful effect. Anna Larsson cuts an icy figure as the princess, acting with the detachment of an unwilling outsider and singing with frosty malevolence as she reminds her niece of the stain she has brought on the family honour. The orchestra underpins the whole thing expertly, Puccini’s half-lit instrumentation coming to life with beauty and control - listen, for example to the muted strings when the nuns discuss the sister who has passed away in the intervening year. Again Pappano’s direction plays the piece for every ounce of sentiment and beauty that it can give.
Altogether, then, this Trittico is a wonderful addition to the discography, surpassed only by Pappano’s audio recording for EMI. Through all the changing scenes, moods and singers, it is the conductor who consistently comes to the fore as the star of the show. With performances as distinguished as this one, it’s small wonder that he got that knighthood! The packaging is also very attractive: each opera gets its own disc in its own case, all packaged together in a slipcase that also contains a booklet made up to look like a Royal Opera House programme. Each opera also has a 5-minute introductory film featuring a commentary from Pappano and a brief interview with some members of the cast.
Simon Thompson 

Cast Listing
Il Tabarro [60:00]
Michele - Luigi Gallo
Giorgetta - Eva-Maria Westbroek
Luigi - Aleksanders Antonenko
Tinca - Alan Oke
Frugola - Irina Mishura
Song Seller - Ji-Min Park
Suor Angelica [59:00]
Angelica - Ermonela Jaho
Princess - Anna Larsson
Monitress - Elena Zilio
Abbess - Irina Mishura
Sister Genovieffa - Anna Devin
Gianni Schicchi [59:00]
Gianni Schicchi - Lucio Gallo
Lauretta - Ekaterina Siurina
Rinuccio - Francesco Demuro
Zita - Elena Zilio
Simone - Gwynne Howell
La Ciesca - Marie McLaughlin
Gherardo - Alan Oke























































































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