PUCCINI Il Trittico – Pappano
Because Puccini’s operatic triptych comes round so rarely in the opera house, it is important that there be a good version to watch at home. Lavishly mounted by today’s standards, Richard Jones’s complete production for the Royal Opera was widely hailed last year – and rightly so. Jones brings the operas freshly alive for a 21st-century audience without betraying the original plots and characters: little to upset traditionalists, much to enthral everyone else.
All three operas are updated to the 20th century. The widescreen canalside setting of Il tabarro looks more like Amsterdam than Paris, the black-brick buildings with distant neon signs shining through the darkness providing a suitably oppressive atmosphere. There is a lot of working-class activity in the background – young women work the late shift in a nearby factory – but the foreground drama is less intensely involving than it might be. This is partly because Gallo sounds vocally hard-pressed as Michele, and partly because Westbroek’s Giorgetta and Antonenko’s Luigi lack Italian ardour, strongly though these two big voices deliver the goods. Pappano, however, plays the opera for all it is worth.
In the theatre, Suor Angelica packed a stronger punch. Here, on DVD, it is little short of devastating. Jones takes greater liberties with this opera, moving the story to a children’s hospital ward and avoiding the Catholic imagery of the vision at the end. It is hard to imagine surroundings more likely to awaken the sympathy of a modern audience and, from the first close-ups of sick infants, even the stoniest hearts must surely melt. By the time Jaho’s doe-eyed Suor Angelica expires (she takes an overdose and mistakes one of the sick children for her dead son in her dying stupor) the emotional impact is overwhelming. Jaho’s youthful vulnerability is deeply moving and, though Larsson’s Princess is on the plummy side, there is fine work from Anna Devin as Suor Genovieffa and Irina Mishura as the Abbess, among others.
Gianni Schicchi is a wicked 1960s delight. The country is still Italy (though Florence is nowhere in sight), and this period comedy takes us back to the world of floral wallpaper and beehive hairdos. Gallo is better cast here as crafty, blue-collar labourer Schicchi out to defraud the middle classes, and his victims among Donati’s ghastly relatives include (alongside some weaker players) Elena Zilio’s fearsome Zita, Marie McLaughlin’s glamorous La Ciesca and the hot-headed young Rinuccio of Francesco Demuro. Pappano, so red-blooded in the earlier two operas, is heavy-handed in this one, but the orchestra plays splendidly
for him and with much detail.
Outstandingly filmed, this set marks a high point for live opera on DVD. The 1983 La Scala recording has its strengths – the traditional production includes vistas of Paris in Il tabarro and some great Italian voices (especially Nicola Martinucci and Piero Cappuccilli) – but looks its age now. I have no hesitation in making this new Trittico the top recommendation.