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Il Tabarro
07 Jun 2015

Il trittico, Opera Holland Park

Time was when many felt compelled to ‘make allowances’ for ‘smaller’ companies. Now, more often than not, the contrary seems to be the case, instead apologising for their elder and/or larger siblings: ‘But of course, it is far more difficult for House X, given the conservatism of its moneyed audience,’ as if House X might not actually attract a different, more intellectually curious audience by programming more interesting works.

Il trittico, Opera Holland Park

A review by Mark Berry

Above scene from Il Tabarro


At any rate, there is now no more need, if ever indeed there were, to ‘make allowances’, and it is difficult really to consider a company with such extensive programming as Opera Holland Park to be in any meaningful sense ‘smaller’. This new production — reusing its 2012 Gianni Schicchi — of Puccini’s complete Trittico may well be the best thing I have yet seen and heard at Holland Park.

Yet again, any reservations I might pre-emptively have held in abstracto concerning a small-ish orchestra (the outstanding City of London Sinfonia, strings 6:5:4:3:2) vanished within a few bars; the acoustic may sound unpromising in an unpromising performance, but in one such as this, with truly excellent conducting throughout from Stuart Stratford, there was no problem whatsoever. Dynamic contrasts and continuities could hardly have been more powerfully — and sensitively — communicated. Climaxes were shaped with unfailing conviction, matched, one felt, with as true an understanding as Puccini’s own of the dramatic ebb and flow. Indeed, the importance of rhythm, and its inextricable alliance to increasingly adventurous harmony, was projected in Il tabarro as almost a symphonic poem of the Seine itself — were that not woefully to underplay the role played by Stratford’s splendid cast. The post-verismo (if in fact we are post-) darkness of the score, lit by shards one might relate to Stravinsky, Schoenberg, or Debussy, but which one would be quite wrong to consider in any sense derivative, told of a Paris both distinct from and yet related to La bohème, Puccini’s self-quotation playful acknowledgement rather than necessity, so deeply imbued with style and meaning was the musical account.

18426855396_e5b9ebf16a_o.pngA scene from Suor Angelica

Different colours, different sound-worlds presented themselves in Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, the tragic noose tightening inexorably in the former, all the more powerfully for its radiant feminity (from which Poulenc surely learned so much in Dialogues des Carmélites. I initially hardly felt like hearing the latter, immediately following the tragic denouement of Suor Angelica. Performance put me right, the revels now begun of a scherzo as full of zest and the comedic complexities of commedia dell’arte as the Petrushka score that more than once came to mind. Nothing was permitted to outstay its welcome, ‘O mio babbino caro’ for once a genuine moment of well-natured self-parody rather than a would-be reversion, in which members of the audience may sit back and ‘enjoy’. Indeed, Dante’s great comedy itself seemed to loom over the enterprise as a whole — just as, in very different circumstances, it had over Calixto Bieito’s brilliant Berlin double-bill of Schicchi and Bluebeard’s Castle earlier this year.

The casts were also as fine as I can recall from OHP, perhaps even finer still. Even given a certain amount of duplication, the number of singers involved is large, so as often put a strain upon one of those ‘larger’ houses. Here, no one disappointed, and the whole, as the well-worn cliché has it, was considerably greater than the sum of its parts; indeed, there was a real sense of company, such as one is more likely nowadays to find in relatively ‘smaller’ circumstances. Anne Sophie Duprels convinced equally in the conflicted roles of Giorgetta and Suor Angelica, her musical and dramatic focus and shaping every inch the equal of Stratford’s. Stephen Gadd and Jeff Gwaltney had one believe just as strongly in them and their plight in Il tabarro; it may not be a lengthy opera, but these felt like fully drawn characters, and the ‘smaller’ parts offered much of great interest too. So did those in the other two operas. Other singers to stand out — although it hardly seems fair to do anything but repeat the cast list — were a vehement, Rosalind Plowright as La Zia Principessa, nobler than the convent hierarchy, but possessed of similar, ruthless, yet perhaps ultimately more conflicted coldness. Family lines exert their own pressure, as we should shortly be reminded in Gianni Schicchi. Richard Burkhard’s protean Schicchi, Sarah Pring’s slightly but not too outlandish Zita, and Anna Patalong’s beautifully sung Lauretta headed a cast of true depth in that final instalment.

18265459788_6febb2cf1a_o.pngA scene from Gianni Schicchi

As night fell, the qualities of the three productions declared themselves in different ways; that change in light — and temperature — proved especially telling during the course of Suor Angelica. Neil Irish’s arched backdrop for Il tabarro, commenting yet expanding upon the ruins of Holland House, moved to the foreground for the laundry — inevitable thoughts concerning convent repression there — in Suor Angelica and the bedroom for Gianni Schicchi, laundered clothes serving dual purpose in the two latter operas. There was, however, no attempt to force the three operas closer together than that; they told their own stories, and we made connections as we would. Martin Lloyd Evans ( Il tabarro and original director of Gianni Schicchi) and Oliver Platt (Suor Angelica and revival director of Schicchi) respected the works, which in turn seemed to respect them for it. Movement and designs were in keeping with the dictates of the action, scenic and musical alike, keenly observed without drawing undue attention. The tragedy and comedy of human existence were the focus, from pit and stage alike.

Mark Berry

Cast and production information:

Michele: Stephen Gadd; Giorgetta: Anne Sophie Duprels; Luigi: Jeff Gwaltney; Frugola: Sarah Pring; Tinca: Aled Hall; Talpa: Simon Wilding; Soprano Amante: Johane Ansell; Tenor Amante: James Edwards; Sister Angelica: Anne Sophie Duprels; Princess Zia: Rosalind Plowright; Abbess: Fiona Mackay; Monitress: Laura Woods; Mistress of the Novices: Kathryn Walker; Sister Genovieffa: Johane Ansell; Sister Osmina: Kathryn Hannah; Sister Dolcina: Rosanne Havel; Nursing Sister: Chloë Treharne; Alms Sisters: Anna Patalong, Sarah Minns; Novices: Naomi Kilby, Ellie Edmonds; Lay Sisters: Rebecca Hardwick, Chloe Hinton; Child: Matteo Elezi; Gianni Schicchi: Richard Burkhard; Zita: Sarah Spring; Lauretta: Anna Patalong; Rinuccio: James Edwards; Gherardo: Aled Hal; Nella: Elin Pritchard; Betto: Simon Wilding; Simone: William Robert Allenby; Marco: Ian Beadle; La Ciesca: Chloe Hinton; Spinelloccio: Henry Grant Kerswell; Gherardino: Barnaby Stewart; Buoso: Peter Benton. Directors: Martin Lloyd-Evans, Oliver Platt; Designs: Neil Irish. Lighting: Richard Howell. City of London Sinfonia/Stuart Stratford (conductor). Holland Park, London, Friday 5 June 2015.

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