The first part of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s latest concert with Chief Conductor Domingo Hindoyan comprised orchestral music from five late-19th-century Italian operas, starting with the dramatic Tregenda from Puccini’s Le Villi. The large orchestra filled the stage and was on top form, the strings soaring and swooping. The dramatic and beautiful Intermezzo sinfonico from Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz was especially striking. Hindoyan accentuated the humour of Ponchielli’s delightful Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda, adding magic to a well-known piece.

Sir Bryn Terfel and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
© Mark McNulty

The reason for the almost capacity audience in the Philharmonic Hall, however, was the presence of Sir Bryn Terfel in a performance of Gianni Schicchi in the second half, a collaboration between the orchestra and the European Opera Centre. The EOC is based in Liverpool and provides opportunities for young singers from Europe and beyond. They have collaborated with the RLPO a number of times in recent years and today they rose to the challenge of working with a fine orchestra, conductor, director and an established star singer.

This was no mere concert performance. Bernard Rozet directed a taut and very funny drama, played out in the space in front of the RLPO. A square of carpet, some chairs and a few props (including a dead body) were all that was needed to evoke the house of the late Buoso Donati whose relatives are desperate to benefit from the old man’s fortune. The characters of varied ages were differentiated by costume rather than by trying to make young performers look old, so Simone wore a suit and tie whereas Rinuccio was dressed in t-shirt and jeans. And the acting was superb. The family members were clearly individual but they moved as one at key moments of the action. For an opera where it is so necessary to follow the details of the plot, it was good to have such witty surtitles (by Lydia French) projected clearly above the stage. The audience was gripped and entertained. With a staging like this, the performance in no way felt inferior to a full production in the opera house. Being able to see the orchestra as well as the singers added an extra visual dimension to the show.

Soloists from the European Opera Centre
© Mark McNulty

Terfel’s commanding stage presence and acting prowess, along with his resonant, powerful voice, made it easy to see why Gianni Schicchi has become one of his signature roles. He embodied the cunning trickster, his impersonation of the dead Buoso being a highlight. Nevertheless, Gianni Schicchi is very much an ensemble piece and although Terfel led the ensemble of singers it was very much a team effort. Indyana Schneider as Zeta and Felipe Cudina as Simone made striking impressions. The latter’s bass was one of the strongest voices of the team. Anaïs Constans as Lauretta had the opera’s best known aria “O mio babbino caro” which she delivered with style and beauty of tone – no wonder her father could not resist her pleas. Her boyfriend Rinuccio was tenor Matteo Roma whose very Italianate timbre was ideal for the romantic lead. All the voices blended nicely. The ensemble in praise of Florence rang out warmly. I’ll be looking out for all of today’s singers in the future.

Hindoyan ensured that the orchestra supported the singers without overwhelming them. They added colour and depth to the performance and just at key moments came to the fore, as when Schicchi chases the family members out of “his” house. When he joined the RLPO Hindoyan said that he wanted to do more opera with them; I look forward to more such ventures.