Eight Little Greats – No.3: Il Tabarro

Il Tabarro [Sung in Italian]

Giorgetta – Nina Pavlovski
La Frugola – Hazel Croft
Luigi – Leonardo Capalbo
Michele – Jonathan Summers
Tinca – Nicholas Sharratt
Talpa – William Mackie
Song Seller – Richard Coxon

Chorus and Orchestra of Opera North
Martin André

Director – David Pountney
Designer – Johan Engels
Costumes – Tom Pye
Lighting – Adam Silverman

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 23 June, 2004
Venue: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

This was a stunning performance visually, dramatically, vocally and, above all, orchestrally. The overwhelming sense of menace was apparent from the moment the house-lights went down and the orchestra launched into the brooding prelude depicting the docks of the Seine and the surrounding cacophony of side-street noises. The tension was there in the pit before the curtain lifted to reveal a stage filled with smoke, fog, shadows in abundance, and a huge industrial container of a room, around and on top of which the action played out. It was beautifully lit.

Particularly memorable was the darkness within the cabin just before the murder – the stage seeming full of a dark impenetrable cavern.

Martin André’s control of tempo throughout and the stunningly responsive and fluid playing of the orchestra maintained and increased the dramatic and musical tension – one felt aware of the constant flow of the river – and the sonority of the low strings contributed to the oppressive atmosphere. The off-stage noises and vocal contributions were also very well managed. It was also a refreshingly unromanticised reading of the score. I liked the way that the two musical references to La Bohème were played absolutely straight. The awkward dance between Tinca and Giorgetta was also nicely judged. It sounded marvellous in the Sadler’s Wells acoustic, which can sometimes be very unforgiving.

Opera North had also managed to assemble a wonderfully interactive and well-matched company of singers for David Pountney to work with. Every contribution to the ensemble hit the mark in the right way. The bitter and jealous Michele was sung by Jonathan Summers. This he did with a fullness of tone and an amazing palette of vocal colours, opening out impressively in his soliloquy before the capture and brutal murder of Luigi, which was sung from on top of the container. Summers is an expressive actor and his baleful presence always managed to raise a frisson on his every appearance. I also liked the way the entire demeanour of this Michele changed after Giorgetta retired to bed. Having just been pouring out a lyrical profession of love for his wife he turned and sang the word “Strega” (Slut) with a snarl that was chilling.

His performance was matched by that of Nina Pavlovski. She portrayed the frustrated and restless Giorgetta with an economy of gesture and a generosity of vocal power that was very appealing. She allowed her voice a slight stridency as it bloomed out at the top that really aided the characterisation. The duet where Michele and Giorgetta relive their marriage and the loss of their child was very intense, and her interaction with Leonardo Capalbo’s ringing Luigi was well managed too. Initially it was stolen looks and ‘innocent’ contact, and then as restraint was lost it became more physical and vocally opulent. They also sang thrillingly together.

The small parts were also well managed. Hazel Croft’s bag-lady Frugola was a nice cameo – I liked the way her character picked up the blossoming relationship between Luigi and Giorgetta very early on, and her awareness of the potential outcome was palpable. Her chattering contributions were also cleanly sung and articulated. The security of her marriage to William Mackie’s lumbering, world-weary Talpa was touchingly portrayed as well. Nicholas Sharratt depicted the shabby, alcoholic Tinca convincingly.

From this you will tell that David Pountney’s production was very cogent and persuasive, and the final curtain as Michele reveals Luigi’s dead body from under his cloak was very convincing (it can sometimes be almost laughable). The murder was rather gruesome with repeated stabbing and then the still-living Luigi was suffocated under the cloak whilst Giorgetta and Michele attempt to patch up their relationship.

This was a great ensemble performance all round. I am now convinced that of Puccini’s three “Il Trittico” operas, Il Tabarro is the best. We should see it more frequently.

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