In that archetypal verismo opera, Pagliacci, the Prologue promises “a slice of life”. In Puccini’s Il trittico, we get more than a single slice: in this evening of opera, we get a broad span of human joys and tragedies, more about the human condition than in any other. There are deaths (from crime-of-passion murder, suicide, illness and old age), greed, adultery, revenge, childbirth and, ultimately, the promise of new love.

Stephen Gadd (Michele) © Robert Workman
Stephen Gadd (Michele)
© Robert Workman

This was Verismo with a capital V. The Opera Holland Park stage is very long and thin, enabling designer Neil Irish to produce a Seine river barge for Il tabarro that is photo-realistic to the minutest detail. But it's not just the scenery that was photo-realistic: director Martin Lloyd-Evans got first class acting from the whole cast, and rarely have I seen an opera with so strong a co-ordination between director and conductor. Stuart Stratford rendered innumerable details of the score, adding enormous colour to the events on the barge as well as all of the sounds of Paris street life in the background. We may have been light on the big Puccini string sweep, but I constantly heard new things in the score.

Conditions were not favourable: a blustery wind and high levels of outside noise meant that everyone (musicians and singers alike) had some level of difficulty making nuances heard. In spite of this, we had three strong performances in the lead roles. Jeff Gwaltney's Luigi had the biggest voice, with just the right combination of roughness and lyricism. Anne-Sophie Duprels was thoroughly in tune (no small feat, in this environment) and pretty of tone. As the wronged husband Michele, Stephen Gadd gave us a wonderful display of how to achieve a gamut of emotions through varying of phrasing and timbre.

The stamp of a great performance of Il tabarro is that at the end, I believed everything, feeling the hard life and small joys of the minor characters, the chill of an autumn evening, and, most of all, the nostalgia and anguish of the three principals. It was a gripping performance.

Oliver Platt, original director of Suor Angelica and directing Lloyd-Evans' original production of Gianni Schicchi, produced staging and acting performances that were every bit as good: both productions showed immense attention to detail.

Suor Angelica has a similar sense of dramatic pace to Il tabarro: we start with a gentle depiction of the surroundings and lives in which the drama is set, in this case, the convent in which Angelica lives – against her will, as we later discover. Imperceptibly, the mood darkens until we are suddenly focused on the main characters in the drama: in this case, the confrontation between Angelica (again sung by Duprels) and the Princess, her Aunt (sung by Rosalind Plowright.

Rosalind Plowright (Zia Principessa) and Anne-Sophie Duprels (Suor Angelica) © Robert Workman
Rosalind Plowright (Zia Principessa) and Anne-Sophie Duprels (Suor Angelica)
© Robert Workman

The portrayal of life in the convent was full of detail and colour: this is a place of hard work and only occasional fun, all seen through the lens of religiosity; Laura Woods' Suora Zelatrice and Johane Ansell's Suor Genovieffa were noticeable amongst a very good ensemble performance. In the title role, Duprels' voice was attractive as it had been in Il tabarro, but overall, the climax of Suor Angelica missed its mark. For maximum impact, we need a blaze of confrontation between Angelica and her aunt, in which Angelica wins the moral victory even as she loses the physical one: for me, Duprels lacked the all out power and Plowright the all out viciousness to make the drama stick – a disappointment when the background and setup for the confrontation had been handled so expertly.

For the much-needed lightening of mood that is Gianni Schicchi, direction continued to be inventive and exciting. The tone was set before the first note, with a hilarious dumb show of the family visits to the dying Buoso; from then onwards, comic acting, stage movement and choreography excelled throughout. I recall with delight the mayhem as the Donatis strew the whole stage with documents, the perfect delivery of the gag "who would have thought that when the old man died, we would weep real tears", and, most of all, the attempts of the female Donatis to bribe Schicchi, first with money, then with sexual favours.

Anna Patalong (Lauretta) and Richard Burkhard (Gianni Schicchi) © Robert Workman
Anna Patalong (Lauretta) and Richard Burkhard (Gianni Schicchi)
© Robert Workman

Neat and dapper in his bowler hat, Richard Burkhard sang the title role with relish, producing comedy, lyricism and strength (the wind was dying down, by now, which helped). As Lauretta, Anna Patalong doesn't get much to do (she's exiled to the terrace feeding an already overfed pet bird for most of the proceedings), but she gets the outstanding aria of the evening, “O mio babbino caro”. It may be only a short aria, but she gave us two minutes of romantic operatic bliss.

The rest of the Donati family were decently sung to go with the excellent character acting: I particularly noted Sarah Pring's Zita. And at the dénouement, we were sent away with light hearts and smiles, exactly as we should. Opera Holland Park have done Puccini's triptych proud.