Il trittico, reflections on the human condition, Welsh National Opera


Whether it was the arrival of Taylor Swift in town, or finally the advent of weather that felt like summer, the Wales Millennium Centre was at less than full capacity for the WNO’s performance of Puccini’s Il trittico (1918). Perhaps it was the less than inspiring poster for the production, or maybe a lack of familiarity with the triptych of one-act operas itself; famous of course is the aria O mio babbino caro (sung by Lauretta to her father the eponymous Gianni Schicchi, and which always makes me think of Merchant Ivory’s wonderful 1985 film A Room with a View) but I had never seen the three operas performed. It’s important to report then that this production (co-produced by Scottish Opera, directed by Sir David McVicar, and conducted by Carlo Rizzi) is one of the most affecting and engaging experiences I have had in the theatre in recent years.

Roland Wood and Alexia Voulgaridou, Il tabarro
Alexia Voulgaridou, Sour Angelica
Roland Wood
Haegee Lee and Roland Wood

Although running to about four hours the fact that there were three different operas and that they were each staged and performed with intensity and impact made the evening fly by. Although diverse in setting and tone Puccini designed the three operas to be staged together, united by the theme of a death in each one. Il tabarro (The Cloak) focuses on a strained married couple, moored on the Seine conducting trade by barge; Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) is set in a nunnery, where the nuns have a range of desires, sister Angelica’s being to hear news from her family; Gianni Schicchi is set in the mansion of Buoso Donati in Florence, where family members gather around his death bed, anxious about their inheritance. All three have a different tone: we move from gritty darkness to loss and salvation, and then to outright farce. The design and staging all serve to draw out the contrasts between the pieces, the 1970s kitsch of Gianni Schicchi being especially notable, intensifying the humour – it’s very Mike Leigh , or even Vic Reeves.

In terms of performance each opera is truly a team effort, though some members have the opportunity to make a particular impression: Alexia Voulgaridou as the heartbreaking Sister Angelica, Roland Wood as the slippery Gianni Schicchi, and of course Haegee Lee as the sweetly imploring Lauretta (and she makes a wonderful pairing with Oleksiy Palchykov as her geeky boyfriend Rinuccio, both obsessively and hilariously determined to be married on May Day). Alison Kettlewell as La Frugola in Il tabarro was also very touching, with her love of her cat and her yearning for a simple life in the countryside. All three operas illustrate Puccini’s gift for storytelling and affecting reflection of the human condition. In short, do not miss the opportunity to see this impactful triptych so wonderfully performed; the WNO deserves our support and our gratitude.            

Images: Craig Fuller

Until June 22 at WMC. The trio of works returns to Cardiff in the autumn.

Staged performances of Gianni Schicchi and Sour Angelica tour to most of WNO touring venues with a concert performace of Il trittico in Oxford.

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