Magazine article The Spectator

Good Clean Fun

Magazine article The Spectator

Good Clean Fun

Article excerpt

Il Trittico

The Guildhall School

Tosca

Royal Opera House

The Guildhall School's end-of-year production was of two-thirds of Puccini's Il Trittico, the (to me) dispensable Suor Angelica dispensed with. First we had Il Tabarro, in a broadly representational setting, as it needs to be, but one which was awkward for the singers to negotiate while communicating with one another. Still, with a decent cast and the excellent conducting of Clive Timms, it worked -- so far as Il Tabarro does work. With its wonderfully atmospheric opening music, heavily indebted to Debussy, and its stoic refusal to indulge the characters with arias, a prevailing lack of lyricism and a determined musical prosiness, in fact, this opera is about as dour as its subject-matter, notable more for what Puccini refrains from doing than for what he does.

The oppressiveness of a loveless life on a barge is brought before us, but wouldn't we have believed it anyway? Puccini, everywhere else in his work, imparts a glamour, even if it is a sleazy glamour, to his subjects. Here we get the equivalent of an unsensational newspaper report of a crime passionnel. But it made a good preparation for a gorgeously high-spirited account of Gianni Schicchi; the only one I've seen which was superior to it was also at the Guildhall School, five years or so ago. That production brought home, with queasy effect, just how macabre a piece this is.

By comparison this one, admirably directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, was good clean fun.

The title role, assumed with magnificent authority, comic timing, a fine voice and a brilliant capacity for vocal imitation, by David Stout, is a study in malice and ingenuity to hold its own beside any in the repertoire. The mock-grieving of Buoso's relatives wasn't at all overdone, and all the funnier for it. Milda Smalakyte made an outrageous three-course meal of 'O mio babbino caro', which should be integrated into the work's texture, but it was hard to resent it because she is so adorable a personality with such a radiant voice. I left feeling very happy.

Not so, alas, the next evening at the Royal Opera, where the new production of Tosca was unveiled to an eager gala audience. What do you do if you're a producer with Zeffirelli's 42-year reign behind you?

Jonathan Kent, abetted by designer Paul Brown, did much the same. Huge and heavy sets meant that the evening was as long as it used to be. These are clearly going to be around for a long time, housing a motley crew of superstars doing their thing, with no attempt to impose on them any overall view of the work. …

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