Puccini himself wrote of Il Tabarro, the tale of a cuckolded barge-owner who murders his wife’s lover, ‘These are the gleams and shadows that must give the crime a sharp and delicate flavour like an etching’. Ultz’s Seine-quay set is suitably seedy, but Puccini’s involving score, with its bassy, back-lit suspense, was murky here. Far from sharp or delicate, both atmosphere and characterisation swum in and out of focus: while Patricia Racette was a voluptuously persuasive Giorgetta, longing for the boulevards of Paris, and Carl Tanner an earnest lover, sparks didn’t exactly fly, and movements felt self-conscious and under-rehearsed.
Irina Mishura’s ditsy Frugola was a wierd pantomime Babushka, her meandering gossip swooping and flaring alarmingly. What’s needed is a barge owner of Bryn-sized brooding menace to centre the drama, something Gallo can’t quite muster. Where he hits home is in the late revelation that he and Giorgetta have lost a baby: it’s that Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf moment where they confront the shared grief which forever divides them. Gallo found real pathos here, sadly undermined by a clumsy final scene.
Pathos turns to raw grief in Suor Angelica, set by Miriam Buether in a catholic children’s hospital, bathed in jaundice-green. The presence of small children tucked into iron beds makes it an especial hell for Angelica (Ermonela Jaho), imprisoned in the convent since the birth of her illegitimate son. In a bold move by Jones, she confronts us from the off, dead centre, a pharmacist preparing her own poison.
When the sadistic Princessa (Anna Larsson, icily statuesque) informs Angelica her son has died, the animal ferocity of Jaho’s reaction sent shock waves through the audience. In 2011 she hadn’t quite the vocal power to carry her acting; now she has, and this searing performance hits you in the solar plexus. Vivid cameos of nuns by Elizabeth Key, Lauren Fagan, Elizabeth Sikora and Eryl Royle leavened the dramatic descent, while Luisotti drew fire from the pit.
After such a harrowing, Puccini rewards us with a rich, satirical desert of a very Italian kind. On John McFarlane’s crowded set, Jones sets his cartoon cast into almost perpetual comic motion - Maria McLaughlin never ceases to primp and prance, while Elena Zillio’s hilarious Zita is a Hyacinth Bucket on speed. Handsome tenor Paolo Fanale is a joy as Rinuccio while his Lauretta (Susanna Hurrell) brought the house down with her sly ‘O mio babbino caro’ . Gallo down-plays the Harlequin part of Schicchi, but it makes his victory over the ghastly Donatis all the sweeter. This Trittico is indisputably built to last.