Il trittico is a set of three one-act operas composed by Giacomo Puccini in 1918 for the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The first, Il tabarro, is a grim tragedy set in 1910: a love-death triangle among dock workers on the Seine waterfront, desperate people debased by poverty and hard work. The middle opera, Suor Angelica, is set behind the walls of a cloistered convent, where a young nun has been forced to retire after conceiving a child outside of marriage; she is driven to madness and suicide. The last opera, Gianni Schicchi, is a comedic gem: an aristocratic old bachelor dies in 1299 in Florence, leaving all his possessions to a congregation of monks; his furious relatives seek the help of Schicchi, a cunning nouveau riche whom they not-so-secretly despise. He destroys the will, takes the disguise of the freshly dead relative and dictates a will to a lawyer, leaving all the most prized possessions to… himself.

il tabarro (2017 premiere)
© Wilfried Hösl

The themes the three works seem to have in common are death and de-humanization: by brutal living conditions in Il tabarro, by cruelty and relentless religious rules against Suor Angelica, and by greed in the last opera, where the relatives turn almost feral in their rage against one another, next against the monks later and then against Gianni Schicchi when he cons them.

Director Lotte deBeer opted for a common set for the three acts: a gigantic funnel, a sort of oversized air-duct, with different props to represent the different environments in each opera. There was no break at all between Il tabarro and Suor Angelica, with the nuns entering as Michele and Giorgetta were still on stage from the previous act. At the end of Gianni Schicchi, while the two young lovers Rinuccio and Lauretta are singing their love duet, all the characters from all the three operas come back on stage. It’s not clear to me that this approach added much to the performance, but it was an understandable idea and, even if the funnel’s purpose was not clear, it did help the projection of the singers.

The Bayerische Staatsoper orchestra delighted us with a wonderful sound. Under the baton of Bertrand de Billy, they gave an emotional and intense performance, with great phrasing in the strings, elegance in the winds and power (occasionally too much power) in the brass.

Wolfgang Koch’s interpretation of Michele, the betrayed husband in Il tabarro, was intense and dark; his dishevelled appearance added brutal overtones to his warm, smooth baritone. His pleading with his wife was as convincing in its sweetness as his rage-filled roars when he was murdering her lover. His wife, Giorgetta, was a passionate Elza van der Heever: her phrasing swept us away in her declarations of love to Luigi, her lover, sung by a strong and powerful Martin Muehle.

Ermonela Jano (Suor Angelica), 2017 premiere
© Wilfried Hösl

Ermonela Jaho was amazing as Suor Angelica. Her powerful voice, her ease in the high notes, her pianissimi, and, most of all, her ability to communicate the anguish of the mother, make her perfectly fit for this role. She lives and breathes it; she is the Suor Angelica of her generation. Director de Beer had Angelica on the verge of insanity from the very beginning: abandoned by her family in a cloistered convent, with no communication for seven years, her child ripped from her bosom right after birth, her mental health is now understandably fragile. Her aunt, the Princess, comes to visit: a stern, cruel religious fanatic, whose only words for Angelica are of rebuke, reminding her the shame she brought on the family. Angelica pleads for a kind word, for forgiveness, but her aunt’s only reason for visiting is getting her signature on some legal papers. When Angelica implores her for news of her son, she learns that he is already dead. This pushes her over the edge, and she kills herself, realising her mortal sin at the last moment. The Virgin Mary in a miracle forgives her and lets her into paradise with her son. Michaela Schuster was positively terrifying as the aunt, her demeanour bordering on repulsive, her voice communicating all her hate and disdain. Their duet was a towering performance.

Gianni Schicchi (2017 premiere)
© Wilfried Hösl

Ambrogio Maestri was the ideal Gianni Schicchi due to his natural comic talent, together with his remarkable stage presence and powerful, beautiful baritone. He showed up with a pageboy haircut and was hilarious. Puccini gave the funny libretto perfect comedic timings, with catchphrases coming back for comic effect (“Lo dicono a Signa”). Unfortunately the orchestra was often overpowering the singers and some of the very well acted and sung ensemble moments were kind of lost. “O mio babbino caro”, beautifully sung by Emily Pogorelc, stopped the show, as customary.