Il Trittico

OA Gianni Schicchi (Il Trittico) photo by Keith SaundersPuccini’s triptych of three disparate operas linked by a single theme relating to the concealment of death, under the title, Il Trittico, first premiered in the Metropolitan Opera House, New York in 1918, has been given a masterly production in the Sydney Opera House by Opera Australia.

An inspired idea by Artistic Director Jo Davies to divide the directing duties between three of the country’s brightest young directors has resulted in a scintillating night of opera that offers something for everyone.

Constantine Costi’s commission was Il Tabarro, a turgid tale of murder brought about by jealousy; Imara Savage was allotted Suor Angelica, Puccini’s all-female opera set in a convent, and Shaun Rennie drew the comic opera, Gianni Schicchi which focusses on the shenanigans of an avaricious family fighting over their inheritance.

Designer Michael Hankin was given the challenge of designing sets and costumes for all three operas, while Russian-American conductor, Lidiya Yankovskaya was offered to opportunity to conduct all three operas as her first Opera Australia engagement.

An added bonus for this arrangement was the opportunity it provided for some of Opera Australia’s most experienced singers to demonstrate their versatility by casting them in contrasting roles in various of the operas.

OA Stacey Alleaume and Tomas Dalton as Young Lovers in Il Tabarro photo by Keith SaundersHankin’s detailed setting for Il Tabarro seemed rather more suggestive of a run-down apartment than a barge on the Seine. The presence of deckhands unenthusiastically loading provisions did little to defuse the claustrophobic atmosphere created by confining most of the playing area to one side of the stage.

However, despite the unconvincing setting, Constantine Costi with three world class soloists at his disposal as the three protagonists in Simon Meadows as the brooding Michelle; Olivia Cranwell as his unhappy young wife, Giorgetta; and Viktor Antipenko as Giorgetta’s unfortunate lover, Luigi; and a dream supporting cast which included Angela Hogan, Richard Anderson, Virgilio Marino and Stacey Alleaume; successfully created an aching sense of foreboding which reached its highpoint in Simon Meadows superb rendition of Nulla! Silenzio!

No quibbles about Hankins’s gorgeous white-on-white set and costumes for Imara Savage’s superbly staged Suor Angelica for which the all-female cast achieved exactly the contemplative tone required for this opera.

Establishing the mood at the very beginning of the opera, Savage allows the audience to listen to a gorgeous rendition of the Opening Prayer sung off-stage by the nuns while contemplating the high white walls which enclose the garden that provide the only touch of colour.

The nuns entrance to the garden to commence their daily chores, dressed in spotless white habits, introduced Sister Angelica for whom the garden is her only solace as she isolates herself from her fellow nuns to spend hours tending the plants while hopelessly dreaming of being re-united with her child from whom she was separated at birth.

OA-Suor-Angelica-(Il-Trittico)-photo-by-Keith-SaundersLauren Fagan is unforgettable as Sister Angelica. Her depiction of the nun’s response to being asked by La Principessa to give up her child, and her rendition of the aria, Senza Mamma, on learning of the child’s death, is almost unbearable to watch.

Fine performances from Angela Hogan as La Principessa, Adele Johnston as The Abbess, and Stacey Alleaume as the inquisitive Sister Genovieffa, together with the succession of superbly sung choruses would make Imara Savage’s exquisite staging definitive, were it not for the final moments for which, hopefully, she might find a more imaginative solution for the miracle climax than having the child make his entrance riding a three-wheel bike.

Intended by the composer as a release from the intense emotion evoked by the first two operas, the shenanigans of the Donati clan in his comic opera, Gianni Schicci, could hardly fail.

However this production also contained surprises. Among them, the inspired inventiveness of Shaun Rennie’s clever, high-camp staging which took advantage of every nook and cranny of Hankins’s lavish, run-down Italian villa setting which the props department had obviously had a field day furnishing; and the obvious relish of the cast in embracing Rennie’s silliness without in any way compromising the quality of their singing.

AAR OA Gianni Schicchi (Il Trittico) photo by Keith SaundersBaritone Simon Meadows, so impressive earlier as the dour Michelle in Il Tabarro, surprised with his delightfully light-hearted turn as the wily Gianni Schicchi. Adele Johnson, a vision in a purple satin ensemble, was ridiculously funny as Zita, the take-no-prisoners cousin of Buoso Donati.

Providing stiff competition, the eye-catching antics of Kanen Breen as Buoso’s grasping nephew, Gherardo, enthusiastically supported by Jane Ede as his wife, Nella and Millie Price as their obnoxious son, Gherardino.

In no ways overshadowed, Richard Anderson, Angela Hogan, David Parkin, Alexander Hargreaves, Clifford Plumpton, Tomas Dalton, Tom Hamilton, Anthony Mackey and Tristan Entwistle, all contributed to the mayhem shamelessly and uproariously mistreating the dead body of their benefactor, Buoso Donati, portrayed by an unnamed actor who deserves some sort of a medal for stoically enduring their manhandling without ever cracking a smile.

But among all the hilarity, the most memorable takeaway from this production of Gianni Schicchi was the flawless rendition by Stacey Alleaume of one of the most popular soprano arias in opera, O Mio Babbino Caro.

Glorious singing from an outstanding cast supported by superb playing by the Opera Australia Orchestra conducted with considerable aplomb by Lidiya Yankovskaya; stamp this production of Il Trittico a triumph for all concerned, and a wonderful showcase for Opera Australia.

Il Trittico
Joan Sutherland Theatre – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Performance: Wednesday 3 July 2024
Season continues to 19 July 2024
Information and Bookings:

Images: Tomas Dalton as Rinuccio, Adele Johnston as Zita, David Parkin as Betto di Signa, Richard Anderson as Simone, Jane Ede as Nella, Kanen Breen as Gherardo, Alexander Hargreaves as Marco and Angela Hogan as La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi (Il Trittico) – photo by Keith Saunders | Stacey Alleaume and Tomas Dalton as Young Lovers in Il Tabarro (Il Trittico) – photo by Keith Saunders | Lauren Fagan as Angelica and Adele Johnston as The Abbess in Suor Angelica (Il Trittico) – photo by Keith Saunders | David Parkin as Betto di Signa, Tomas Dalton as Rinuccio, Kanen Breen as Gherardo, Jane Ede as Nella, Alexander Hargreaves as Marco, Adele Johnston as Zita, Angela Hogan as La Ciesca and Richard Anderson as Simone in Gianni Schicchi (Il Trittico) – photo by Keith Saunders

Review: Bill Stephens OAM