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Ermonela Jaho as Sister Angelica in Suor Angelica [Photo © ROH 2016 by Bill Cooper]
02 Mar 2016

Il trittico, Royal Opera

Strong revival for Richard Jones 2011 production with cast mixing returnees and débutantes

Il trittico, Royal Opera

A review by Robert Hugill

Above: Ermonela Jaho as Sister Angelica in Suor Angelica [Photo © ROH 2016 by Bill Cooper]


Richard Jones ' 2011 production of Puccini's Il trittico has received its first revival at theRoyal Opera House (seen 29 February 2016), conducted byNicola Luisotti and revived by directorsSarah Fahie (Il tabarro,Suor Angelica), and Benjamin Davis (Gianni Schicchi). Baritone Lucio Gallo returned to the roles of Michele in Il tabarro and the title role in Gianni Schicchi, whilst soprano Ermonela Jaho and contraltoAnna Larsson reprised the roles of Suor Angelica and the Princess in Suor Angelica. In Il tabarro, Patricia Racette sang Giorgetta with Carl Tanner as Luigi, Carlo Bosi as Tinca, Jeremy White as Talpa, Irina Mishura as Frugola. In Suor Angelica,Elena Zilio was the Monitress,Elizabeth Sikora the Mistress of the Novices, Irina Mishura the Abbess. InGianni Schicchi, Paolo Fanale andDavid Kempster made their Covent Garden debuts as Runiccio and Marco with veteran bass Gwynne Howell (who made his Covent Garden debut in 1970) returning as Simone, Elena Zilio as Zita, Jeremy White as Betto, Marie McLaughlin as La Ciesca, Carlo Bosi as Gherardo,Rebecca Evans as Nella, and Susanna Hurrell (making her Covent Garden main stage debut) as Lauretta.

Richard Jones' production has revived very well (of course the production of Gianni Schicchi debuted in 2009 with the remaining two being added in 2011), and to a certain extent remains the star of the evening. Despite having three different set designers, Ultz (Il tabarro), Miriam Buether ( Suor Angelica), John MacFarlane (Gianni Schicchi), with costume for all three by Nicky Gillibrand, the three operas successfully form complementary parts to a whole, centred both by the common 1950's setting, and the stylised realism and detailed persononen regie of Jones' directorial approach. Puccini saw Suor Angelica as very much the centre of the triptych though the opera has been relatively neglected compared to the other two. In this revival, as in the 2011 performances, Suor Angelica is certainly back at the centre thanks to the remarkably intense performance from Ermonela Jaho.

Of the three operas it as Il tabarro which seemed the weakest. Puccini sets this with detailed naturalism and the production responds with a tapestry of small roles such as sailors wandering past, office girls in a building overlooking the canal, the neighbourhood tart as well as the song seller (David Jonghoon Kim) and the lovers (Lauren Fagan and Luis Gomes), not to mention the secondary characters Jeremy White and Irina Mishura's delightful Talpa and Frugola, plus Carlo Bosi as Tinca, who were all strongly characterised. The problem with this approach is that if the central drama is not strong enough, then this lively backdrop can sometimes pull focus.

All three principals, Patricia Racette (Giorgetta), Carl Tanner (Luigi) and Lucio Gallo (Michele) sang well and gave us some fine moments. Tanner was suitably virile and impressively trenchant in his denunciation of the life of barge workers, and the moment the Luigi and Giorgetta reminisce about their early life in Belleville remains a magical one. Racette brought out Giorgetta's frustration, but her voice tended to get a bit uneven when pushed in the upper register so it was the quieter moments that told. Gallo was suitably gruff as Michele, but the sense of simmering passions was only intermittently there. These were three individual performances, what we lacked was that essential crackle of underlying passion and need between the three. Perhaps Nicola Luisotti's relaxed, low key approach to the score was partly to blame. He brought out some beauties in the score, but this was definitely a performance which felt undercooked, all the right ingredients but it didn't quite coalesce.

It does not always pay to bring the same cast back together for a revival, the same intensity does not always come as well. But in the case of Suor Angelica, Ermonela Jaho and Anna Larsson repeated their amazing performances. Jaho's Suor Angelica remains a sustained and intense portrayal, remarkable for the way Jaho conveys Angelica's suppressed feelings through body language and dialogue, so that the great moments do not explode out of nowhere. And the relationship with Larsson's elegant, yet remarkably repressed Princess showed all the crackle and underlying tension which was lacking in the first opera. It helps that these two are surrounded by a very strong team of nuns, with some suitably fierce performances from Elena Zilio as Monitress, Elizabeth Sikora as Mistress of the Novices, and Irina Mishura as the Abbess plus a full array of nuns each of whom was clearly characterised (Melissa Alder, Kate McCarney, Eryl Royle, Lauren Fagan, Katy Batho, Elizabeth Key, Jennifer Davis, Emily Edmonds, Renata Skarelyte, Tamsin Coombs, Kiera Lyness, Anne Osborne, Amy Catt, Cari Searle).

Gianni Schicchi is mainly an ensemble piece, and though centred on Lucio Gallo's shady, down at heel and rather brilliant Gianni Schicchi, it is the ensemble of the relatives with their stylised group choreography (choreographer Lucy Burge) which is just as important. With some changes of personnel the ensemble was still crisp, stylised and very funny. Not surprisingly in Richard Jones' view none of the principals is very admirable, and Gallo's Schicchi is just as bad as the other relatives, only the two lovers Rinuccio (Paolo Fanale) and Lauretta (Susanna Hurrell) form a still small centre, with Fanale's lovely hymn to Florence, Hurrell's poised and beautiful 'O mio babino caro' and their final duet (though without the sight of a panorama of Florence).

The miracle is that the relatives create such a gallery of distinct characters whilst being very funny as an ensemble: Gwynne Howell as Simone, Elena Zilio as Zita, Jeremy White as Betto, David Kempster as Marco, Marie McLaughlin as La Ciesca, Carlo Bossi as Gherardo, Rebecca Evans as Nella. The supporting characters were equally highly coloured, with Matteo Peirone as Spinelloccio, Tiziano Bracci as Ser Amantio, Simon Wilding as Pinellino, David Shipley as Guccio, Peter Curtis as the late Buoso Donati and Gabriele Montano as the chief brat.

After giving us two slightly low key, rather relaxed accounts Nicola Luisotti and the orchestra launched with impressive energy into the prelude to Gianni Schicchi and thereafter the frenetic pace of the music matched the stage action brilliantly. But this wasn't an over-driven account and Luisotti knew where to relax so that the great moments really did flower.

This was not quite an ideally balanced account of Il trittico, with Il tabarro lacking the sense of strong meat and dark undertones, but overall this was a remarkably creditable account of a tricky trio of operas.

Robert Hugill

Cast and production information:

Director: Richard Jones, Set Design: Ultz, Miriam Buether, John MacFarlane, Costume Design: Nicky Gillibrand, Conductor: Nicola Luisotti

Il tabarro - Michele: Lucio Gallo, Giorgetta: Patricia Racette, Luigi: Carl Tanner, Tinca: Carlo Bosi, Talpa: Jeremy White, Frugola: Irina Mishura, Song Seller: David Junghoon Kim, Lovers: Lauren Fagan & Luis Gomes

Suor Angelica - Monitress: Elena Zilio, Mistress of the Novices: Elizabeth Sikora, Sister Osmina: Eryl Royle, Sister Genovieffa: Lauren Fagan, Sister Angelica: Ermonela Jaho, Sister Dolcina: Elizabeth Key, Abbess: Irina Mishura, Princess: Anna Larsson

Gianni Schicchi - Buoso Donati: Peter Curtis, Simone: Gwynne Howell, Zita: Elena Zilio, Rinuccio: Paolo Fanale, Betto: Jeremy White, Marco: David Kempster, La Ciesca: Marie McLaughlin, Gherardo: Carlo Bosi, Nella: Rebecca Evans, Gianni Schicchi: Lucio Gallo, Spinellocio: Matteo Peirone, Ser Mantio: Titiano Bracci, Pinellino: Simon Wilding, Guccio: David Shipley

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden: 29 February 2016

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