Il Tabarro. Westbroek; Antonenko, Gallo. Suor Angelica. Jaho, Larsson. Gianni Schicchi. Siurina; Gallo, Demuro; Royal Opera Chorus, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Pappano. Production: R. Jones. Opus Arte OA 1070 D (3 DVDs) or OA BD7102 D (Blu-ray), 180 mins. (opera), 20 mins. (bonus), subtitled
This 2011 Royal Opera staging of Il Trittico marked the first time since 1965 that the company had mounted Puccini's three-part work as an intact entity. In March 2007, director Richard Jones created the Gianni Schicchi, and he was invited to return and complete the triptych for this production.
A busy director of Broadway and West End theater as well as opera, Jones has distinguished himself with much of his past work and amassed a store of Olivier Awards for it. His Trittico is reasonably satisfying, but anyone who saw James Robinson's 2002 staging for New York City Opera is bound to feel a disquieting sense of déjà vu. Jones's concept for all three works is nearly identical to that of Robinson nine years before: Il Tabarro is again placed in a late-1940s neo-realist/film noir context; Suor Angelica unfolds in a children's hospital sometime in the mid-twentieth century; and Gianni Schicchi smacks of early-1960s dolce vita. Is this mere coincidence, or does Jones owe at the very least a tip of the hat to Robinson?
Il Trittico is always an ambitious production for any company, and the results can be a very mixed bag, as they are here. Tabarro'sset design by the single-named Ultz is appropriately dark, cramped and oppressive, made more so by D. M. Wood's stygian lighting. Lucio Gallo strives to deliver a strong impression as Michele but is miscast. His diminutive stature prevents him from becoming the looming, tragic figure the opera demands, and his baritone is serviceable rather than striking. Eva-Maria Westbroek's rich sound is lovely but lacks the italianità and strong chest tones one wants in the role of Giorgetta; it doesn't help that Westbroek towers over Gallo and looks like she could simply swat him away like a fly. Aleksandrs Antonenko's tenor sounds a shade too light and sunny for Luigi, and his superficial acting doesn't imbue the character with enough desperation. Irina Mishura fares well as Frugola; her dark mezzo shows signs of wear, but her voice is huge, and her performance has an intriguing physicality.
Suor Angelica loses a lot when removed from its cloister setting; its evocative score so specifically captures elements of light and nature that to set it in a hospital ward imposes incongruity. It also makes the climactic miracle harder to stage; in this case, Jones simply skips the miracle and gives Angelica a nervous breakdown surrounded by dumbfounded nuns and sick children. It does not make for a satisfyingly cathartic conclusion. The performance of Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho needs no apologies; she is deeply affecting, and her light but penetrating voice is well suited to Puccini's demands. Anna Larsson is riveting as the Principessa; dressed in a severe, constricting 1930s suit, she is a figure of terrifying iciness and rectitude until she realizes, too late, how her cruelty has affected her niece. Larsson's booming, no-nonsense contralto sounds ideal in this context. Miriam Buether's set is drab for the hospital ward, but the Angelica– Principessa interview takes place in a sterile anteroom that becomes frighteningly raked with Wood's nightmarish Expressionist lighting.
Gianni Schicchi brings back Gallo in a role far better suited to his small, pointed baritone and impish persona. He has a grand time as a decidedly plebeian Schicchi, dressed in day-laborer's clothes. Nicky Gillibrand's costumes are playfully over-the-top, but the vocally exquisite Ekaterina Siurina, as Lauretta, is as ill served by her unflattering sundress as Westbroek is by her Tabarro schmatte. Francesco Demuro makes a charming Rinuccio, though his light tenor is stretched a bit thin in the role's upper reaches. Elena Zilio is delicious as Zita, barking out her lines in the nastiest of chest tones. The entire cast seems quite fine-tuned and expertly routined, with Gwynne Howell's Simone and Marie McLaughlin's Ciesca particular standouts.
Antonio Pappano leads all three operas with great verve and sensitivity, as well as a fine understanding of late-Puccini style. In a kind of Trittico tutorial, he introduces each of the three operas with brief mini-documentary segments aimed at viewers who may be unfamiliar with the works. A lengthier documentary — around twelve minutes — on the Schicchi disc follows Lucio Gallo backstage throughout a single evening's performance, from his arrival at Covent Garden through the two leading roles he sings. It's informative to watch what one singer goes through during a night's work, and it certainly commands respect.