Il Trittico, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2011Posted on 13 September 2011
In performances of Puccini’s Il Trittico the first opera Il Tabarro often delivers the heaviest emotional punch, but not here. Suor Angelica knocked Tabarro right off the stage because of one person — Ermonela Jaho. She was … words fail me … sublime … ethereal. You have to beg, borrow or steal to get tickets for this show just to see her performance.
She is so pure as she sings I desideri — desires are flowers of the living, and in death the Virgin Mother anticipates them all — yet after Anna Larsson as her aunt the princess arrives, cold and elegant in black, and carrying a lovely fox stole, Ms. Jaho starts to show real emotion, singing of her son, and asking for news of him. Her È morto? followed by her anguished cry, was as lyrical as it was powerful. In this production the abbess moves Angelica’s hand to sign the document, smiling obsequiously to the princess, contaminating the serene purity of the convent with her desire for the family’s money, and not a care in the world about Sister Angelica. When Ms Jaho has finished singing Senza mamma, with her cries of parlami, amore you know it’s the end for her. And when the end of the opera arrives what a huge triumph it is for Antonio Pappano in the orchestra pit and Ms Jaho on stage. A front drop comes down and Ms Jaho stands in a spotlight to thunderous applause.
Yet it was not just her — the rest of the cast was super, and Anna Larsson in particular was emotionally gripping as the princess. Even after an interval of 25 minutes one could not take another such drain on the emotions, and Gianni Schicchi was the perfect antidote.
This last opera of the evening was enormous fun, and the harmonically ostentatious pleading of the relatives produced delighted laughter from the audience. I loved the occasional disconnects in the music near the beginning, as if this were musical chairs, and Elena Zilio was an excellent Zita with Francesca Demuro superb as the young Rinuccio, so keen to marry the Lauretta of Ekaterina Siurina. As she sang O mio babbino caro to her father my only complaint is that this came over as a set piece aria, but Lucio Gallo as Schicchi gave a fine performance of a crafty peasant who can outwit the whole Donati family. Here was a man who could well use the mule, the mills, and give the house to his daughter as a wedding gift.
Lucio Gallo was equally at home as Michele the barge owner in Il Tabarro, subdued and controlled yet still emotional. Richard Jones’s new production, with its set designs by Ultz was excellent, and I liked the way D.M. Wood’s lighting died down at the front of the stage towards the end. Alan Oke was superb as Tinca, and Anna Devin and Robert Anthony Gardiner were very good as the lovers. Aleksandrs Antonenko sang a hunky Luigi, but Eva-Maria Westbroek as Michele’s wife Giorgetta did not grip me. I’ve seen her give wonderful performances of Sieglinde, of Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, and even Minnie in Fanciulla, but after Irina Mishura’s Frugola has sung about her dream of a little house, and Giorgetta sweeps in with her own dream, È ben altro il mio sogno! Ms Westbroek lacked lyricism, and the duet with Luigi was disappointing. Pappano revved the orchestra up to glorious heights, but the singing didn’t rise to the same level.
Yet this Puccini trio of operas is a must-see for Antonio Pappano’s richly nuanced conducting, plus Richard Jones’s new production of Suor Angelica with Ermonela Jaho. I first saw her in January 2008 when she took over at short notice from Anna Netrebko in Traviata, and she was a knock-out. That’s a role she’ll repeat at Covent Garden in January 2012 — I shall be there!
Performances continue until September 27, with a starting time of 6:30 — for details click here.