Il Trittico, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre

June 16, 2024 by


Even for Puccini lovers, Il Trittico is somewhat of a curiosity. This collection of three one-act operas was debuted in 1918 to mixed reviews, and as a result it is now a rarity to see all three performed in the same evening. Most elusive is Suor Angelica, known to have been Puccini’s favourite but usually less easily enjoyed by critics and audiences, perhaps due to its very dark subject matter. It is therefore a treat for the WNO, which has over the years confirmed itself as more than willing to bring to the stage less frequented works, to give all three operas as they were originally intended. The logistics of such a feat are far from simple, but it is a testament to the consistently high quality of the WNO’s work that the set changes were executed seamlessly and that the evening, long as it was, never felt slow or sluggish.

At first sight, Il Trittico might feel disjointed. There are some significant tonal shifts from one act to the next: Il Tabarro is a story of jealousy and murder set in early-1900s Paris (and the only one, in this production, to preserve its original setting), and feels gritty and dark; Suor Angelica, which was here moved from the 1700s to a post-war scenario, is a deeply emotional tragedy dealing with a mother’s loss; and Gianni Schicchi is a cheeky comedy revolving around a forged will (the original was based on Dante’s Comedy, but the WNO places it in the 70s, which is a perfect fit for this particular story). The original link between the three tales – all three contain, in one way or another, the concealment of a death – can feel tenuous, especially when the mood of the three is so disparate. The WNO production was able to take the audience for the whole ride without losing it, which is not necessarily a simple feat; both the direction, which had a very careful eye for atmosphere in all three parts, and the performances, which displayed impressive range throughout, are to praise for this.


Suor Angelica: Alexia Voulgaridou


Gianni Schicchi :Haegee Lee and Roland Wood

Musically, Il Tabarro feels like the most impressive of the three acts, and the bleakness of its setting – you wouldn’t tell that we’re in Paris from this under-a-bridge corner – is a good contrast, and a good frame, for the loftiness of its instrumentation. The quality of the lighting in this staging gave this tale of an unhappy couple and a murdered lover an almost-noir vibe; together with the muted colours of the costumes, it felt almost like watching an old black-and-white movie. Aside from the three leads – Leonardo Caimi in particular impressive in his technique as Luigi – a stand-out performance, much applauded by the audience, came from Alison Kettlewell as La Frugola. This is an opera that should feel dark and foreboding from its apparently quiet beginning to its shocking ending; but it was the depth of feeling channelled by Michele’s reminiscence of the past, before disaster strikes, that felt the most poignant, due to careful direction and powerful performance alike.

Alexia Voulgaridou was deft in her representation of the complexities of character of Giorgetta, but her time in the spotlight – both in terms of vocal performance and of acting – most certainly came in the second act, as she took centre stage in Suor Angelica as the tragic nun who finds out about the death of her little son, taken away from her at birth, and commits suicide in order to be with him. The story starts deceptively light-hearted, and the intensity of the music grows as the emotional weight does; Voulgaridou fills Angelica’s final part with such poignancy and such sincere heartbreak that it got real tears from the audience. The second half of this act was indeed hard to sit through, not because of a lack of proficiency in its performers but precisely because of their skill: it is rare for operatic tragedy to hit so hard. Deserving of a special mention is also Tichina Vaughn, who showed impressive range by moving smoothly from the stern, inflexible Princess Aunt in this part to the comedy role of Zita in the next one.

After the heavy emotional punches delivered by the first two parts, it felt like a bit of a relief to close the night on something humorous. Gianni Schicchi is the best known of the three parts, and for good reason; witty and quick-paced, it feels remarkably modern in both contents and form, with its story of greedy relatives lusting over the will of a rich old man and of the clever peasant who, under the guise of helping them, fools them all. Puccini’s music here is a perfect fit for a libretto full of clever little quips, and the work is much more of a challenge for the performers than it might seem at first sight, given the speed with which it moves and the many flourishes on which it relies to land correctly. Choosing a staging which contains in its aesthetic a number of nods to 70s sit-coms was clever, but the success of this portion of the night is primarily due to near-perfect casting. Roland Wood – who also gave a deeply moving performance as Michele in Il Tabarro – was a shoe-in for the title role, and Oleksiy Palchykov nailed the physical comedy as Rinuccio. It was also a delight to see one of Puccini’s most famous arias, O mio babbino caro, performed in its original context; Haegee Lee is to be praised for striking its tone perfectly as well as for delivering a slightly ditzy – but nonetheless delightful – Lauretta.

Il Trittico may often be regarded as a lesser Puccini, but in many ways it is Puccini at his best: a masterful demonstration of his range and storytelling skill. It was lovely to get a rare chance to see it in its original form, and even more proof – if more proof was needed – of the work WNO is doing as a true excellence in opera in the UK. Especially at a time when funding for opera is under serious threat, there could be no better calling card for the relevancy, relatability, and importance of opera in our contemporary arts landscape.


Main image:  Alexia Voulgaridou and Leonardo Caimi



Wales Millennium Centre until June 22 and touring, and returnign to WMC in September.



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