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Scene from Gianni Schicchi [Photo by Stofleth courtesy of Opéra de Lyon]
08 Feb 2012

Il trittico in Lyon

All the important directors pass through Lyon, so it was just a matter of time before British director David Pountney would be invited to stage a production. It was Puccini’s triptych.

Giacomo Puccini: Il trittico

Il tabarro — Michele: Werner Van Mechelen; Giorgetta: Csilla Boross; Luigi: Thiago Arancam; La Frugola: Natascha Petrinsky; Il Tinca: Wynne Evans; Il Talpa: Paolo Battaglia.

Suor Angelica — Sister Angelica: Csilla Boross; La Tante Princesse: Natascha Petrinsky; L'Abbesse: Anna Destraël; La Soeur zélatrice: Françoise Delplanque; La Maîtresse des Novices: Wilkinson; Soeur Geneviève: Ivana Rusko; La Soeur infirmière: Elizaveta Soina; Soeur quêteuses: Ivi Karnezi and Jessie Nguenang.

Gianni Schicchi — Gianni Schicchi: Werner Van Mechelen; Lauretta: Ivana Rusko; Rinuccio: Benjamin Bernheim; Zita: Natascha Petrinsky; Gherardo: Wayne Evans; Nella: Agnes Selma Weiland; Betto: Lynton Black; Simone: Paolo Battaglia; Marco: Wolfgang Newerla; La Ciesca: Kathleen Wilkinson; Le notaire: Maxim Kuzmin-Karavaev.

Opéra Nouvel. Chorus, Orchestra and Soloists of the Studio de l'Opéra de Lyon. Conductor: Gaetano d’Espinosa; Mise en scène: David Pountney. Scenery: Johan Engels. Costumes: Marie-Jeanne Lecca. Lighting: Fabrice Kebour. February 3, 2012.

Above: Scene from Gianni Schicchi [Photo by Stofleth courtesy of Opéra de Lyon]


So here is the Trittico he gave the Lyonnais (note that this difficult Puccini work is three little horror stories, very loosely and ironically structured as hell, heaven and purgatory):

Mr. Pountney’s point of departure was to relate the three stories each to the next. Michele’s murder of Luigi seemed to be among the presumed serial murders of young dock workers seduced by Giorgetta, ritual killings that somehow purged their horror at the death of their young son. Sister Angelica consumes the body and blood (bread and wine) of the son of God in a sort of sacrificial black mass that excites a vision of her dead son during her final moments of life. And, well, Frugula and Talpa from Tabarro reincarnate themselves in Gianni Schicchi as Gherardo and a pregnant Nella with a baby in a carriage and an annoying seven year-old son on roller skates.

Maybe you prefer Puccini’s shock and awe versions of the same stories.

The mise en scène fortified the thematic unification. In Tabarro there was a box that was supposed to be a ship container, in Suor Angelica the same box became a tabernacle and in Gianni Schicchi it was a coffin though it had multiplied itself into many more boxes that were safes filled with boxes of spaghetti and cans of tomato sauce. Colors too brought things together conceptually. The Tabarro container was within a huge stage box of small shiny black bricks (hell). The Suor Angelica box was in a stage box cloister of small shiny white bricks, thousands of them (heaven). In Gianni Schicchi the little bricks of the visible side walls seemed the color of pasta al pomodoro.

Of the three operas Il Tabarro was the most successful for a number of reasons, the first of which was that the top of the ship container box had cables and a hook that suggested it would disappear after that act. At first there seemed no reason to think that this little théâtre guignol piece was not being taken at face value, and even Mr. Pountney’s little twist at the end seemed fun. All the nuns in Suor Angelica disappeared under identical massive white habits so they all looked exactly alike. Therefore Sister Angelica seemed to have no personality whatsoever but that did not really matter once we understood that the opera was not about her but about a play on the Catholic mass.

Things fell apart in Gianni Schicchi where Mr. Pountney displayed his sense of fun in runaway character expositions that dwarfed Puccini’s own idea of his comedy. Specifically the campy antics of a very fey Marco (son of Simone), not to mention the fellatio and cunilingus enacted by Rinuccio and Lauretta. Then there were the witnesses to the writing of the new will who upstaged the whole scene by busily and noisily eating, yes, spaghetti al pomodoro.

Even a stellar cast could not have saved this production. As it was the Opéra de Lyon assembled a number of promising young singers and a few (but not enough) seasoned performers who mostly held things together on the stage. Of particular notice was the Brazilian born, Italian nurtured tenor Thiago Arancam who allowed Luigi’s passions to burst forth with tenorial flair and dramatic reality. Hungarian soprano Csilla Boross sang securely and acted Giorgetta with conviction but did not find the ultimate rapture of Sister Angelica, victim of the production. Bass-baritone Werner Van Mechelen is an accomplished artist who made both Michele and Gianni Schicchi into vocally and dramatically vivid characters. Wynne Evans and Paolo Battaglia were appropriately cast as Tinca and Talpa, and carried age and experience to Gherardo and Simone in Gianni Schicchi.

Of notice as well was Austrian born, Israeli nurtured mezzo soprano Natasha Petrinsky who is not yet an accomplished enough artist to bring Frugola alive, nor old enough and complicated enough to impersonate Suor Angelica’s evil aunt, and not grand enough to make Zita a comic force. She is a very promising artist. Neither tenor Benjamin Bernheim nor soprano Ivana Rusko, both house singers at Zurich Opera, are sufficiently finished artists to have been asked to take on the roles of Rinuccio and Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi.

Young Sicilian conductor Gaetano d’Espinosa made natural and convincing verismo in the pit, aided by the naturally harsh sound of the Opéra Nouvel and its fine orchestra. Il Tabarro was his best effort, perhaps motivated by the splendid vocal force of the principals (Mlle. Boross, messieurs Arancam and Van Mechelen). Suor Angelica too seemed driven with sensitivity and understanding though he missed reaching its emotional heights. His choice of tempi (sometimes unusually slow) in Gianni Schicchi was beyond the capabilities of his some of his young, inexperienced artists.

Michael Milenski

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