Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Suor Angelica & Gianni Schicchi - Royal Academy of Music

Having been away last week, I was able to catch the RAM's Puccini double bill only at its final performance. I'd heard great things and was not disappointed--for this college to be able to field two different casts (I saw the second, on November 24) for such an undertaking was extremely impressive, while what one imagines was a generous rehearsal period meant that Schicchi, in particular, came across with a tack-like sharpness to match the brilliantly tacky costumes of William Kerley's cleverly updated production. Jason Southgate's economical design kept Suor Angelica kept simple and clear, its sort-of apotheosis all the more moving for its modesty of means; Schicchi became joyously cluttered, with a smart central idea of making Buoso an art collector, the individual elements of his legacy various artistic depictions of what the libretto--loosely and colloquially translated in the surtitles--specifies.

There were some great performances. Emily Garland was a brave and moving Angelica, Anna Harvey (who I last saw as an alarmingly convincing Ariodante) was here transformed into a steely, evil-librarian Zia Principessa. Ed Ballard made a convincingly cock-sure Schicchi, while Eve Daniell deserves a special mention for her transformation from a chastely giggling Suor Genoviefa to a tottering, tarty Nella--others also made the switch from the first work's sorority to the second's money-grubbing family.

Peter Robinson conducted both pieces lovingly, and in turn made me realise afresh what masterpieces they are. Richard Jones's staging of Suor Angelica as part of his Royal Opera Trittico in 2012 was, I'll admit, the first time I'd seen the work staged, having missed ENO's staging from a decade earlier. It cured me for good of my slight squeamishness towards that work's conclusion. It's a kitschfest on paper ('The miracle begins,' the stage directions tell us, 'The little chapel is flooded with light. The door opens slowly to reveal the church filled with angels ... The Queen of solace appears in the doorway, and in front of her, a blond child, all in white, etc. etc.'), but Jones staged it as an almost unbearably moving drug-induced hallucination as part of a production that had at its centre a potent criticism of institutionalised religion (and religious institutions). I was hoping to find a clip from YouTube, but it seems like the Royal Opera and Opus Arte have managed to enforce their copyright -- I can't imagine for one moment that no one's tried to upload it. Get the DVD/Blu-ray, though, if you don't own it already.

Anyway, it's strange, perhaps, but I rarely find Gianni Schicchi any less moving. Perhaps it's all to do with watching A Room with a View as a teenager.

I don't need to bang on about 'O mio babbino caro', but the moment when that melody seeps into Rinuccio's earlier little aria is even more moving, I find -- more spontaneous than Lauretta's calculated, manipulative appeal to her father. Certainly, however, the Florence Tourist Board must feel a little indebted to Puccini for both.

Finally a word for the odd one out, Il tabarro, the first panel of the triptych, and the one whose requirement for verismo big guns makes it an inadvisable prospect, one can safely assume, for student voices. London can look forward to a staging of all three at Opera Holland Park next summer, though. In the meantime, here's the great duet for Georgetta and Luigi, made especially great for the fact that it deals less with idealised love than love that grows, with powerful psychological realism, out of a mutual desire for escape from the dank drudgery of life on a Parisian barge--which, Puccini's score makes clear, is actually far less appealing than it might sound.


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