Magazine article Musical Times

Three in One

Magazine article Musical Times

Three in One

Article excerpt

Three in one

JOHN STEANE

Puccini: II trittico

English National Opera

London Coliseum, 8 April

It says something for the power of ideas that a few days after the event the mind is preoccupied not so much with what was heard and seen as with comments subsequently read. Puccini's Trittico, the 'triptych' of one-act operas, has been given the surprisingly rare honour of being performed in London complete. Sadlers Wells had it in repertoire for a short time in the 1950s, but the usual procedure is to drop the middle opera, Suor Angelica, or quite often to play the third, Gianni Schicchi, along with something completely different, such as Pagliacci or Bluebeard's castle. ENO reunites the three originals, winning gratitude in the first place simply for providing the opportunity to experience the complete work again in the theatre. More than that, the production gave rise to commentary, by Roger Parker in his programme essay and by Rodney Milnes in his review for The Times (10 April), that suggests a revised view of the Trittico and to some extent of its composer.

Parker proposes 'a Trittico that anticipates post-modernity rather than limping vainly behind Debussy's Pelleas and Schoenberg's Erwartung.' This follows a further observation, that when the whole triptych closes with Schicchi stepping outside his historical context and addressing the audience it is `merely the closing gesture in what has been a sustained questioning of "involvement".' Thus, II tabarro (the first of the three) is `melodrama in inverted commas' and Suor Angelica has 'a distance from the drama' as `part of the original effect'. Milnes sees a unity in the three operas `despite superficial differences' so that together they amount almost to `an alternative morality in direct confrontation with accepted Christian beliefs'.

`This is big stuff', as he says about the perceived themes. Certainly it cannot be more than outlined in such a review as this, and yet I feel it to be part of the show - and have to add immediately that for myself it was not `part of the show' at the time, nor is it (however fascinating) acceptable now. For myself, the experience was in no way revolutionary but simply confirmed the orthodox view that Schicchi is the masterpiece, the others being strong, distinctive creations at which (at least in part) the taste rebels.

Still, it was not the nature of the works themselves but rather that of the singing that limited the evening's pleasure as far as I was concerned. From the soprano (Rosalind Plowright) and the baritone (Phillip Joll) in II tabarro there came perhaps half-a-dozen notes in the course of their performances that sounded in my ears as firm, even and of acceptable quality. …

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