GSMD Puccini Double Bill

Il tabarro
Gianni Schicchi [both operas sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Il tabarro
Georgetta – Lenia Safiropoulou
Michele – Philip Spendley
Luigi – Gediminas Varna
Tinca – Bragi BergthórssonTalpa – Phillip GerrardSong seller – Gareth Huw JohnFrugola – Helen EvoraTwo lovers – Barbara Zavros & Adrian Ward
Chorus of stevedores and passers-by

Gianni Schicchi
Buoso Donati – Andrew O’Brien
Simone – Ritz de Ridder
Zita – Geneviève King
Rinuccio – Oliver Kuusik
Gherardo – Gareth Huw John
Nella – Sophie Angebault
Gherardino – Charlie Manton
Marco – Marc Scoffoni
La Ciesca – Chloé De Backer
Betto – Phillip Gerrard
Gianni Schicchi – David Stout
Lauretta – Milda Smalakyte
Maestro Spinelloccio – Benedict Nelson
Ser Amantio di Nicolao – Nicholas Merriweather
Pinellino – Maciek O’Shea
Guccio – Richard Immerglück

Chorus & Orchestra of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Clive Timms

Martin Lloyd-Evans – Director
Bridget Kimak – Designer
Simon Corder – Lighting

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 8 June, 2006
Venue: Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London

The programming of parts one and three of Puccini’s ‘Il Trittico’ makes an evening of perfect length in the theatre, incorporating as it does the tense atmospheric drama on the Seine and Florentine black comedy. The inclusion of the rather more saccharine and difficult to ‘pull off’ “Suor Angelica” can leave one with an hour of less than appealing fare in the middle – rather like a dud main course in an otherwise fine meal. Here the substantial starter and frothy dessert provided much to savour.

Some outstanding marked “Il tabarro” singing from Lenia Safiropolou’s tragic Georgetta – a character stuck in a loveless marriage to a bitter man and aroused by the younger, virile stevedore Luigi. She has the perfect voice for this music, with a real plangent quality in her tone, which she uses most effectively to evoke the anxiety, desperation, and occasional lyrical abandon of the character. Her top notes were absolutely spot on and thrilling, and there was not an ugly sound all evening; a fantastic instrument allied to a fine technique placed at the service of the drama. She also has a nice tendency to underplay in dramatic terms using economy of gesture to make the theatrical point.

The surrounding cast was not quite on this level vocally, but Philip Spendley’s Michele displayed a fine baritone, ringing out impressively in the upper reaches, but perhaps lacking in the dark and menacing tone the role ideally requires. He will surely gain this with more experience, and he caught much of the moody, brooding, jealous nature of the husband well, and enacted the murder of his rival with conviction.

The lover is, of course, the tenor, and it is quite a big sing in a short role. Gediminas Varna probably needs to tone down the stock ‘Italian gesturing’ in his acting to make his portrayal a little more true, but he sang with lots of full open tone but little variety.

All the smaller roles were well taken, with Helen Evora’s slightly dotty, cat-loving La Frugola delivering a nicely underplayed cameo. Interestingly, amongst those ‘seen’ are the song-seller and the two lovers – who normally deliver their lines off stage. This was nicely handled in the production, which placed the barge deck at stage-front and then the dockside walkways at the rear. The claustrophobic and sultry atmosphere presented on stage was matched by some good responsive playing in the pit, the inexorable flow of the Seine being well painted at the start. Clive Timms’s conducting is always singer-friendly and always at the service of the drama – but he also relishes the orchestral effects along the way. He also has the appropriate lightness of touch for the comedy of “Gianni Schicchi”.

Puccini’s short comedy is best known for its ‘lollipop’ aria “O mio babbino Caro” – a soprano favourite, but it requires real ensemble playing and singing if it is to make its full impact. This it certainly got here, although perhaps the cast – egged on by ‘supporters’ in the audience – was beginning to enjoy things a little too much.

The piece opened with all the relatives surrounding the bed of the still-alive and audibly-breathing Buoso – who promptly snuffs it just as the music starts, thus causing the relatives to (over-) act their grief before financial concerns set in.

All these dreadful characters had nicely defined traits and were a true collection of grotesques. Their comic routines, whether looking for Buoso’s missing Will, the reading of the same, the undressing of Buoso and dressing of Schicchi, and their individual cajoling of Schicchi to give them the mule, the house and the Mills of Signa were slickly enacted, and impressively so since for most of the evening they had to deal with the obstacle course of a floor with large holes in it where the floorboards had been ripped up. This was a rather fun piece of design and direction.

There was also some fine singing, but really the opera belongs to Schicchi, Rinuccio and Lauretta; they have the plum vocal roles. As Schicchi, David Stout turned in a comprehensive portrayal. He sang the role very well, especially in his switching of voices during the dictation of the new Will – and in which he followed Puccini’s markings to the letter. He communicated well to the audience the thoughts of his character, particularly his dislike of the family, and he was easy prey to the charms of his daughter. As Lauretta, Milda Smalakyte sang with passion and charm, but perhaps could have floated the famous aria even more. She was better in the more impassioned moments when it looked as if her proposed marriage was under threat – this was the one moment where the director allowed all the cast to unleash their full operatic gesturing in a very theatrical way – very funny! Oliver Kuusik was a suitably ardent and impassioned Rinuccio, the only member of the family with an open mind. Mention should also be made of Andrew Brien’s hapless Buoso – he died well and submitted his body to various indignities throughout the hour!

  • The performance reviewed here was the first of four. Further performances of this production (with some double-castings) on 10, 12 & 14 June at 7 o’clock. Tickets available from Barbican Box Office 0845 120 7500
  • GSMD
  • Barbican

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