II Trittico - II Tabarro - Suor Angelica - Gianni Schicchi - Giacomo Puccini - English National Opera

This evening (20 March 2001) I arrived at the ENO to see II Trittico, Puccini's trilogy of three one-act operas: II Tabarro (The Cloak), libretto by Giuseppi Adami; Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica), libretto by Giovacchimo Forzano; and Gianni Schicchi (a black comedy), libretto again by G. Forzano. Gianni Schicchi is regarded as Puccini's masterpiece. In fact, it has long been on its own. The conductor was Noel Davies.

Andrew Shore impishly "hammed it up" as Schicchi and Mary Plaza was enchanting as Lauretta. The most famous aria is "O Mio bambino caro". Cheryl Baker takes a major part singing both Giorgetta in II Tabarro and the title role in Angelica. Peter Coleman-Wright was an excellent support in II Tabarro and Bonaventura Bottone as the tenor role of Luigi. In Angelica Anne-Marie Owens gives a chilling account of the Princess aunt.

II Tabarro depicted an adulterous marriage set on the barges of the Seine in Paris. The inference of the title (The cloak) comes when the barge man Michele is telling his unfaithful wife Giorgetta of the joy of their early love, their child (now dead) and how he used to cradle them both beneath his cloak. Michele seizes the culprit Luigi (someone he least suspected as his wife's lover), strangles him and conceals the body under his cloak. Giorgetta alarmed by the noises she has heard comes back on board the barge and begs Michele to fold her once more in his cloak. He opens the garment to reveal her lover's body! (According to the one critic Michele didn't even cover Luigi with the cloak before revealing the body to his wife.)

But I think the most poignant of the three operas is that of Suor Angelica. The setting is a spring evening in 1900 in the garden of a convent. Sister Angelica, the daughter of a noble family, brought disgrace and shame on their name by an illicit passion which resulted in an illegitimate child. As atonement for her sin, she took the veil; however, she cannot forget her son. From the convent chapel can be heard the Ave Maria. As the nuns emerge from worship, the Monitor assigns fitting punishment to a pair of lay sister who were late for divine office, as well as to Sisters Lucilla and Osmina. The nuns disperse to their recreation. Sister Genevieve remarks that the fountain is about to be turned to gold by the rays of the sun, as it does for three days every May, a sign of special favour from the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is a moment of sadness as they recall a member of their order who died a year ago. The Monitor reminds them that all desires are forbidden to nuns, but Sister Genevieve disagrees; for example, she longs to hold a pet lamb, and the other Sister declares she too has a wish, to which the nuns laughingly reply that it must be for something delicious to eat. Sister Angelica denies wishing for anything, but the nuns are shocked by her lie for they known that she longs for news of her family. The Nursing Sister rushes in: one of the nuns has been stung by a swarm of wasps and is in great pain. Sister Angelica quickly prepares an herbal remedy. Two alms sisters distribute provisions during which they mention that a magnificent carriage has arrived at the convent. The Abbess summons Sister Angelica to meet an important visitor, her first since she entered the convent seven years before. The Princess, Sister Angelica's formidable aunt, has come to demand that Angelica formally relinquish her share of the patrimony in favour of a younger sister, who is about to be married. During the course of their encounter, the Princess bluntly informs Angelica that her son died two years ago. The Princess departs, leaving Sister Angelica in mortal despair. Singing of divine grace, the nuns go to their cells. Angelica follows, but returns to mix a lethal draught distilled from garden plants. She swallows the poison but is immediately overcome by guilt at taking her own life. She prays to the Virgin Mary for salvation and her prayer is answered: the Virgin appears with Sister Angelica's child.


Verinha Ottoni.


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