Il Trittico

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Composer: Giacomo Puccini

Librettos: Giuseppe Adami & Giovacchino Forzano

First produced: Metropolitan Opera, 1918

Present Company: The Royal Opera, 2012

Director: Richard Jones

Sets: Ultz; Miriam Buether; John Macfarlane

Costumes: Nicky Gillibrand

Lighting: D.M. Wood, Mimi Jordan Sherin

Video Director: Francesca Kemp

Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

Conductor: Antonio Pappano



Il Tabarro:

Michele: Lucio Gallo

Giorgetta: Eva-Marie Westbroek

Luigi: Aleksandrs Antonenko

Frugola: Irena Mishura

Tinka: Alan Oke

Talpa: Jeremy White


Suor Angelica:

Sister Angelica: Ermonela Jaho

The Princess: Anna Larsson

Sister Genovieffa: Anna Devin

Mistress of the Novices: Elizabeth Sikora

Sister Osmina: Eryl Royle

Sister Dolcina: Elizabeth Key


Gianni Schicchi:

Gianni Schicchi: Lucio Gallo

Rinuccio: Francesca Demuro

Lauretta: Ekaterina Siurina

Simone: Gwynne Howell

Zita: Elena Zilio



Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-50

Total opera size: 39.90 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate (22~26 Mbps)

Italian DTS-HD MA 5.1

Italian PCM 2.0 stereo

Subtitles: English, German, Italian, French & Spanish

Region: All

Opera runtime: 176 minutes

Il Tabarro: 56:45

Suor Angelica: 61:10

Gianni Schicchi: 60:05

Opus Arte 2012



Conception & Staging: A-

Costumes & Makeup: A

Casting: A

Singing: A

Orchestra: A

Music Direction: A+

Video Direction: A-

Image: A

Audio: A-

Extras Features: B-

Recommendation: A



Unlike the traditional pairing of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci with Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, Puccini’s three one-act, one hour operas, Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, were conceived to be performed on a single night, which still times out less than most operas by Wagner and Richard Strauss.  In terms of mood, story, time, place and content the three acts could hardly be more different from one another.  While it is expected that the three casts would have singers in common, the sets and costumes are specific to each.  You can imagine that, artistic merit aside, Il Trittico doesn’t get nearly as much theater play as Puccini’s other second tier operas like La fanciulla del West or the rarely performed La Rondine.  Gianni Schicchi, the most popular of the three parts of Il Trittico, is often paired on its own with other short operas.



In his Introductions to the evening’s operas, conductor Antonio Pappano tells us that Puccini’s intention was to present a triptych of contrasting, yet complementary stories.  The essay in Opus Arte’s enclosed booklet insists that there is no unifying theme, but Pappano suggest one: deception.  In Il Tabarro, the deception is marital: The love has gone out for Michele and Giorgetta since the death of their young child years earlier. Giorgetta, for her part, has found solace and passion in the arms of Luigi, one of Michele’s dockworkers. 


The deception here works at a number of levels: the obvious ones where the lovers plan another tryst, perhaps to run away together, and the one where Michele lies secretly in wait to learn the identity of the man who he feels has stolen his wife from him.  But there is also the deception in which life appears to offer happiness, but cheats us with unexpected death, backbreaking work and the betrayal of love.



The deception in Suor Angelica is among the most heartbreaking in all opera.  Sister Angelica is the convent’s most practiced herbologist and takes some pride in creating remedies for the sick.  She is there to atone for the “sin” of having a child out of wedlock – an inconvenience made all the more potent by her being the eldest girl of a noble family.  The family has taken her child and sent Angelica to the convent.  But she finds neither grace nor comfort there for she longs to be with her child whom she has not seen since birth.  She has tried to “do the right thing” by praying and following the rules, and indeed is a respected and loved member of the community of nuns who know nothing of why she was sent there.  Angelica’s fellow sisters are aware of her pining but believe she is simply waiting to hear from her family who has not visited since the day she entered.



The tragedy of Suor Angelica is that Angelica believes that doing what was expected, even demanded, would remove the stain of sin from the hearts of her family, but she learns this is not to be.  In fact her child has died in the interim, and she becomes desolate in her agony, which is compounded by what she feels as the treachery and hypocrisy of her family who have kept her and her child apart without hope.  But this is not all, for Angelica longs to be with her child even now, and in her ecstasy takes poison, only to realize her mortal sin too late.  Of all the deceptions, perhaps none is more tragic than the deception of ecstasy.


We should take a cue from the audience, and recharge our life force with a twenty-minute intermission.



Puccini rounds off his triptych with a rousing comedy of class and manners. The family gathers round the bedside of Buoso Donati, waiting for him to die so that they can learn who he left all his money and property to.  Donati grants their wish with one of opera’s most perfunctory deaths.  The family searches the house and soon finds his will which, to their horror, specifies that his entire fortune be left to the church.  What to do, what to do!  The youngest, most enterprising, and most rebellious among them, Rinuccio has an idea that perhaps Gianni Schicchi the father of his girlfriend Lauretta can find a solution, seeing that Schicchi is a well known as a clever man.  Unfortunately he is also a “peasant” and the rest of the family wants nothing to do with him or Rinuccio’s dreams of marrying Lauretta.



Seeing that they have no alternative if they are to see a single florin from Buoso’s estate, they agree to listen to Schicchi’s plan, which he is not so fond of offering anyhow considering the public disdain in which they hold him.  But his daughter begs him to reconsider if it will forward her hopes of marrying Rinuccio.  She sings the single memorable aria from all of Il Trittico O mio babbino caro (which you will no doubt remember from A Room With a View, also set in Florence.)  Schicchi’s plan is indeed clever, bodacious, and not a little dangerous.  Since the death of Buoso Donati has not yet been made public, they should call for the attorney, meanwhile Schicchi will take Donati’s place in bed, and order a new will that would favor the family instead of the church.  Except, of course, Schicchi has plans of his own.



The Music

In his introduction, conductor Antonio Pappano makes the observation that Puccini was influenced by Claude Debussy, an idea I admit I had never considered, doubtless because the glory of Puccini’s arias have come to supersede the operas themselves and thereby, his music.  Sure enough, the opening pages of score for Il Tabarro, which is absent voices for a time, does indeed resemble Debussy.  Once singing starts the coincidence tends to recede, but it remained alive in my consciousness throughout the three acts.


Gianni Schicchi is very compelling stuff, musically speaking.  It sparkles like Verdi’s Falstaff, and like that that masterpiece written just twenty-five years earlier, Schicchi has a superb love song that seems to come out of nowhere.  In the Verdi opera, the title character is the one deceived, in the Puccini, it is the other way around.  Suor Angelica is remarkable for its being scored entirely for women’s voices.  Puccini varies them to some extent by having some of them choir offstage, as well as mixing them up onstage.  It’s a risky move nonetheless and depends, for its success, on having concise characterizations in performance as well as a variety of color and range of expression.




Not since 1965 has Puccini’s 3-opera opera been staged in its entirety at Covent Garden.  Gianni Schicchi was seen there as recently as 2007, and it is that production which is revived here, with the other acts considered accordingly.  Recorded live in September, 2011, an HD-video version was distributed worldwide in February 2012.  Director Richard Jones’ most ingenious contribution for his staging of Suor Angelica was to place the action in the infirmary of the convent, with its rows of bed-ridden children to haunt Angelica.


Puccini described the action as taking place, respectively, in the Paris of 1920, a 17th century convent in Tuscany, and Florence around 1300.  Director Richard Jones, perhaps to help tie the three acts together, retains the original locations, but places all the action in the early part of the last century.  All three acts move in real time, as they tend to do in most opera – but unlike most opera, each act tells a complete story. In the current production, there is a scene change for Suor Angelica midway through the act which helps deflect our attention from a texture comprised entirely of high voices.



The lighting designs of D.M. Wood and Mimi Jordan Sherin, especially for the first two acts, is quite striking.  It is already evening as Il Tabarro opens, and shadows darken throughout its brief hour.  By the time it ends the only flicker of light on the stage illuminates the faces of the living dead.  Suor Angelica takes places in the first hour after evening worship on a set filled with fading whites and light grays. The apparent source of light for Gianni Schicchi comes from the electric room light which is turned up and down throughout the play to hide the truth and play out its masquerade.


The most extraordinary thing about the three acts, despite their obvious differences in set design is the consistency of the blocking.  In each act, there are long passages where the actors are made to move about or stand in rows with just enough depth to move left and right but hardly enough to move past one another.  The effect is distressing in Suor Angelica, suffocating in Il Tabarro and comical in Gianni Schicchi; yet in each case the intent is clearly to contain the characters and show how few choices they have.  Clever.




I continue to be impressed by the number of non-Italians featured in the casts of Italian opera on the European stage.  In thisal Opera House production of Il Trittico the single Italian headliner is baritone Lucio Gallo, who, by the way, bears a remarkable likeness to the composer. Gallo is featured in the first and last acts. . . His pitch is always spot on, but he starts off tentative, but by the end of Il Tabarro and throughout Gianni Schicchi he is as strong in voice as he is a compelling actor - tragedy or comedy.


The only other prominent Italians are Francesca Demuro as Rinuccio and Elena Zilio as Aunt Zita, who are just fine, particularly Zita.  Even the assignment of O mio babbino caro went to Russian soprano Ekaterina Siurina (the aria is featured on her personal website.)  The supporting roles are all excellent, save Elizabeth Sikora as Mistress of the Novices, who kind of gave me the willies beyond that which I felt was needed for the role. But the evening’s top honors, in addition to Gallo, go to Dutch soprano Eva-Marie Westbroek’s Giorgetta and Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko’s Luigi from Il Tabarro and especially the draining, impassioned performance of Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho in the opera’s second act title role, aided by Swedish Anna Larsson’s Princess.



Video & Image

Opus Arte presents another one of their reliable transfers to high definition video in which the only difficulties, if such they be, are the responsibility of the lighting and video directors.  That said, there are some things to be aware of.  As noted earlier, the lighting of Il Tabarro fades to black gradually and relentlessly.  Huge swathes of the set, actors excepted, that had life and texture early in the scene devolve into total darkness by its end.  Do not adjust your television sets.  This is as it should be.  The lighting for Gianni Schicchi is rather flat, which results in a somewhat lifeless image when the Donati room light is turned down.  I should give Video Director Francesca Kemp high marks for her generally unobtrusive camera work and editing.  Cuts from static wide shots to medium framings are sensible, and close-ups are avoided except for dramatic effect.




As usual for Opera on Blu-ray, both surround and stereo mixes are available in uncompressed formats.  Less usual is the fact that there is little to recommend of the one over the other.  Both are very good, though I feel the surround wins on points with a slightly more voluptuous, less piercing sound in the louder, busier moments.  Voices are generally well-reproduced with a little less distinction for the female singers in Suor Angelica than I hoped. I was particularly taken with the background sounds and singing in Il Tabarro, noting in passing the lovely tenor of Ji-Min Park (the Rodolfo in Opera’s Australia’s 2011 La Boheme.)


What with all my references to Antonio Pappano’s offstage insights into the opera, it would have been a shame had he or his band not lived up to expectations – but, if anything, he, and they, exceeded them.  Beautiful, warm, rich, exciting, passionate, brilliant– what did I leave out? – coherent.  I had the impression somewhere in the middle of the last act that if I were to play the opera without watching it or without paying any attention to the meaning of the lyric, that the three operas that make up Il Triticco would somehow become three acts of the same opera.  I might try it some day.



Extra Features

First up, and recommended before each of the acts, are the three introductions to the operas by the conductor.  Antonio Pappano comments on Il Trittico only as part of his remarks on the first act; the second intro is largely given over to its star, Ermonela Jaho, who makes an insightful observation about singing while acting a particularly passionate and draining role.


The 9-minute Backstage with Lucio Gallo is informative and a bit unusual.  Gallo, in English, comments on his dual roles of Michele and Schicchi - dark and comic - how he prepares for the evening in his dressing room, including a visit by the conductor as they review the previous night’s performance and, later during the second act, Gallo tells us about his mental and vocal preparation for the third.  We have the impression that Gallo is a man we would enjoy over a bottle of wine.



In a font entirely too small, the enclosed booklet includes detailed synopses of the three operas and an excellent article about the opera that gets its cue from Cavaradossi’s aria in Tosca: Recondita armonia di bellezze diverse (Hidden harmony of contrasting beauty).  The essay, translated into French and German, goes on in some detail to discuss the opera’s origins and early performance history.  One area where Opus Arte gets a failing grade in is their menu design, where it is far from clear which of two indicators of the same color is the one that gets you where you want to go.




Once we get past that this is not Butterfly or Tosca and that there are precious few memorable single hits, Il Trittico is an full evening of potent music drama that runs the full gamut of lust, intrigue, murder, religious fervor, betrayal, romance and comedy.  Opus Arte’s Blu-ray has much going for it: great singing and playing; intriguing set and lighting design that keeps things interesting without risking audience sensibilities for a traditional approach; a fine video and audio transfer, and interesting if not exhaustive bonus features.  Warmly recommended.


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

August 20, 2012

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