This Opus Arte Blu-ray disc documents the highly-praised Covent Garden production of Puccini's Il Trittico, the first such effort there since 1965. Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica were new Richard Jones productions at the time of the September 12, 2011 performance, and this Jones rendition of Gianni Schicci was first given at Covent Garden in 2009. So it's fair to say that all three are still pretty fresh offerings, and one might also opine that Jones is one stage director with taste and imagination. Although there are different set designers for each opera, Jones manages to impart effective atmosphere and offer a coherence and dramatic spirit in his style.
Il Tabarro, set in the 1920s here, features a dark look to its sets, with warehouse buildings and an alley in the background, and the barge (which appears to consist of an assemblage of wood pallets) and the canal in the foreground. Suor Angelica has an austere sort of antiseptic atmosphere, where the religious elements often have a coldness about them. Set in a children's hospital ward in the 1920s, the green walls and the old style nun's habits impart an effective realism to the production. Gianni Schicci takes place around 1960 here and its sets consist of the rather messy apartment of the dying Buoso Donati, who does his dying with his greedy relatives present. Schicci has been the most popular of these three operas, often being staged without the other two. It's easy to see why because it not only has the mega-hit O mio babbino caro, but its comical story of the scheming relatives trying to get Buoso's money with a fake will is utterly hilarious, especially here.
Strange to think that these three seemingly disparate stories form a trilogy: Il Tabarro features a cuckolded husband who resorts to murder, while Suor Angelica gives us a penitent nun who is driven to suicide, and Gianni Schicci deals with thoroughly unscrupulous people scheming great risks to satisfy their greed. What unifies the three stories? It is said that Puccini modeled his trilogy after the three parts of Dante's Divine Poem. Thus, Il Tabarro represents hell, while Sister Angelica symbolizes purgatory and Gianni Schicci somehow corresponds to heaven. Some claim Suor Angelica represents heaven, but whatever the case, the three operas, at least as presented in this package, make a fine trio.
Lucio Gallo as a slightly understated Michelle in Il Tabarro is excellent. He is even more effective as Schicci in Gianni Schicci, but here, and in the other opera, he is surrounded by a score of talented, committed singers. In Il Tabarro Eva-Maria Westbroek makes a splendid Giorgetta and Aleksandrs Antonenko is brilliant as Luigi. There is really no weak singer in the cast of Gianni Schicci and the acting skills of the cast are thoroughly convincing, as they must be to properly bring off the comedic elements in this masterpiece.
The central opera in the trilogy, Suor Angelica, has always been difficult to present effectively. There are no male characters and thus the vocal writing can seem lacking in variety. Also, many have charged that the opera's story is mawkish: the title character serves as a nun having given birth to an illegitimate son some years before, and when she learns the son has died she is devastated and takes poison. Realizing she has committed a mortal sin, she asks forgiveness and as she dies she sees a vision of the Blessed Mother bringing her son to her. Ermonela Jaho is powerfully convincing as Suor Angelica and really dominates the proceedings, though the others in the cast are fine. To me, this performance of Suor Angelica makes about the best case possible for this opera, which I do not find substantially flawed in any way.
Antonio Pappano chooses judicious tempos throughout the tree operas and draws excellent performances from the orchestra and chorus. The camera work is excellent and the sound reproduction vivid. While there is another Blu-ray disc available, a TDK effort led by Julian Reynolds that I am not familiar with; this new one from Opus Arte should satisfy even the most discriminating Puccini admirer. As an added attraction, there is about a ten-minute bonus track that shows Lucio Gallo preparing for performance and commenting on the operas.
Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings