Il Tabarro & Suor Angelica – Review – Leeds
Il Tabarro & Suor Angelica – Review
Leeds Grand, September 2016
by Sandra Callard
The premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s triptych of operas, Il trittico, took place in December 1918 at the New York Met. It opens to a mixed reception. The three one-hour operas comprise Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Achicchi. The first two of this triptych are now at the Grand Theatre in Leeds by the exemplary Opera North. I am eager to see this departure from Puccini’s norm.
Il Tabarro opens onto a stage setting of incredible gloom and harshness. Three exhausted workers take heavy sacks out of the hold of a barge. They laboriously haul them on to the quay, under the supervision of the boss, Michele. He is sung in a glorious baritone by Ivan Inverardi, in his Opera North debut. Michele’s wife, Giorgetta, lightens the atmosphere as she asks Michele to give the men a drink to ease their work.
It soon becomes apparent that Giorgetta is having an affair with the younger of the workers, Luigi, sung by David Butt Philip. Their voices have a pleasing and moving blend as they long for escape from the drudgery. Luigi longs to return to his beloved home village and Giorgetta to the excitement of Paris.
Il Tabarro means ‘the cloak’. Michele wears it. In happier days he wraps it around his wife and child. But the child dies and their marriage founders. The cloak is an integral part of the tragedy that follows.
The music of Puccini, and the passion and longing of the lovers, lifts the drab scenes onto a somewhat higher plane. But it is Inverardi’s magnificent voice that haunts. It brings a heart-wrenching intensity to the role of Michele.
The second opera, Suor Angelica, is a powerful story of sorrow, love and redemption. It is set in a nunnery, where Sister Angelica has been sent seven years ago after giving birth to an illegitimate child. The opera is written purely for female voices. Sister Angelica is movingly sung by Anne-Sophie Duprels, and we feel her injustice. The nuns’ voices set the religious tone perfectly. There is a nice play on the characters of the various Sisters as they show traits of gluttony, desire and curiosity. All are human attributes, but forbidden within cloisters.
“Plays the part superbly”
The arrival of Sister Angelica’s aunt, the Princess, raises her hopes that she has news of her son. But the Princess only wants her signature to surrender her claim to any part of her wealthy parents’ estate. The Princess is sung by Patricia Bardon. She struts the stage arrogantly in her designer clothes. She has no empathy with Sister Angelica as she tells her that her son has died, and then leaves. Bardon plays the part superbly, and her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice only adds to the gulf between her character and her appearance.
The disintegration of Sister Angelica is painful to watch. She commits the cardinal sin, then realises that it will bar her from seeing her son in heaven. Her appeal to the Virgin for forgiveness as she sheds her worldly clothing and walks forward to see her son.
I like the idea of a one-hour opera. It necessitates a clarity of story and needs a first class company to bring it succinctly to life. We have it all here. I left with an ambition to see the third, but not shown, opera of Puccini’s trilogy.
images: Tristram Kenton