Il Tabarro, and Gianni Schicchi, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2011

Of the operas dealing with unfaithfulness in marriage, where a man kills his wife’s lover, the two that really get to me are Mascagni’s Cavalieri Rusticana, and Puccini’s Il Tabarro. The Puccini is a superbly dark and intense drama and, like his other operas, combines musical depth with gripping theatre. Moored on the Seine is a barge whose owner, Michele has lost the love of his much younger wife, Giorgetta after the loss of their baby a year before. While he manages the business and broods, she takes up with a handsome young stevedore named Luigi.

Luigi and Giorgetta, all photos by Richard Hubert Smith

The end is never in doubt, but in the meantime we hear about the frustrations of life. There are two other stevedores: Tinca who drinks because his wife goes with other men, and Talpa whose wife comes to the boat and tells Giorgetta of her dreams for a quiet retirement. At this point, Julie Unwin who sang Giorgetta with immense emotional power, launched into È ben altro il mio sogno! giving us the highlight of the evening, a wonderful cri de coeur for the romance of life in a Paris suburb. Two young lovers lighten the mood before the end when Luigi mistakes the lighting of Michele’s pipe for Giorgetta’s signal to come to the boat and meet her. When she finally reappears from below deck, she tries to make up with her husband and reminds him he once told her that everyone wears a cloak (tabarro) that sometimes hides happiness, sometimes something sad. “And sometimes a crime” is the response.

Michele lights his pipe, heralding the dénouement

Simon Thorpe gave us a sympathetic portrayal of Michele, with Charne Rochford handsome and strong-voiced as his wife’s lover. Tinca and Talpa were wonderfully portrayed by Andrew Glover and Arwel Huw Morgan, and with James Conway’s direction the whole cast worked tremendously well together. The designs by Neil Irish gave just the right sense of darkness and closeness, and while this was very much a team effort, Julie Unwin was assuredly the star — utterly convincing in her amorous frustration.

Gianni Schicchi was a fine way to end the evening, and Richard Mosley-Evans played the title role with great theatrical panache. This was enormous fun, with Paula Sides as Schicchi’s daughter, and Ashley Catling as her fiancé, along with Buoso’s ridiculously grasping family, the doctor, the lawyer and the witnesses.

Reading Buoso’s will before Schicchi arrives

The whole thing came off very well indeed, and Paula Sides gave a lovely rendering of O mio babbino caro. The ending, with the fires of hell spouting up as if by accident from the boxes in the room, and the dead Buoso tumbling out of a cupboard, was a fitting finale to a fine evening’s entertainment, well conducted by Michael Rosewell in the orchestra pit.

Lauretta pleads with her father Schicchi: O mio babbino caro

After a further performance in London at the Hackney Empire on March 11, this pair of operas goes on tour to the following venues: Cambridge Arts Theatre, March 17, 18; Exeter Northcott, March 24, 25; Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, March 28; The Hawth, Crawley, April 1; The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham, April 7, 8; The Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, April 11; Snape Maltings Concert Hall, April 15; Norwich Theatre Royal, April 20; Wolverhampton Grand Theatre, May 3; Buxton Opera House, May 5; Hall for Cornwall, Truro, May 10; Lighthouse, Poole, May 13; Gala Theatre, Durham, May 16; Perth Festival, Perth Theatre, May 21; Grand Opera House, Belfast, May 26, 27.

Leave a Comment