This summer, Wagner lovers will be flocking to Munich. Kirill Petrenko opened his first Munich Opera Festival with a production of Parsifal, and will close proceedings with a Ring cycle later this month. In between, however, he has opted for Puccini, which is fitting in light of Petrenko's emergence as an interesting Puccinian following his recent Bayerische Staatsoper productions of Tosca and Il trittico. Now the latter work has made a return, in Lotte de Beer's 2017 staging and, as with the last outing, it boasts a luxury cast. Pucciniphiles are due a pilgrimage to Munich too, as it rarely gets better than this.

<i>Gianni Schicchi</i> © Wilfried Hösl
Gianni Schicchi
© Wilfried Hösl

Petrenko's Puccini is bracingly alert, filled with colour and has a romantic sweep that is utterly transporting. The conductor adopted swift tempi for Il tabarro, leaving plenty of space to revel in the score's variegated detail. The most descriptive features, such as the darkly churning Seine and Paris' atmospheric streets complete with a car horn, were beautifully calibrated in unsmeared realisations of Puccini's aural scenography to convey the sheer modernity of the score. The Bayerisches Staatsorchester, a luxury unit boasting piquant winds, silvery strings and fearsomely incisive percussion, responded wonderfully to Petrenko's taut baton flicks and soaring gestures. What a shame this special conductor-orchestra relationship is soon to end.

Yonghoon Lee (Luigi) and Wolfgang Koch (Michele) © Wilfired Hösl
Yonghoon Lee (Luigi) and Wolfgang Koch (Michele)
© Wilfired Hösl

Eva-Maria Westbroek's full-throttle Giorgetta lacked focus vocally, but the soprano gave a vivid depiction of the barge-owner's wife suffocated by unhappy love and her claustrophobic existence. She and Yonghoon Lee's Luigi had believable chemistry especially in a love duet that reached boiling point, and if the tenor's all-guns-blazing delivery was sometimes unvaried it was also thrilling. Wolfgang Koch's darkly ruminative Michele was altogether more nuanced: the German bass-baritone artfully sculpted his Italian text to powerfully convey the character's world-weariness, his suffering and all-consuming rage. Even in the context of such strong performances. Claudia Mahnke's La Frugola lit up the stage with a fruity "Ho sognata una casetta".

Lotte de Beer's production is minimalistic, the director choosing to focus more on developing individual characterisations. She establishes strongly distinctive moods and adopts unfussy period costumes within the triptych, though de Beer also achieves a degree of visual consistency by opting for the same set design – a large cylinder seen face on within which the action takes place – for all three works. The device proves particularly effective in Il tabarro, creating a sense of claustrophobia and cranking up the psychological tension when characters emerge like apparitions from distant mists.

Ermonela Jaho (Suor Angelica) © Wilfired Hösl
Ermonela Jaho (Suor Angelica)
© Wilfired Hösl

Luigi's corpse is rotated 360° when the cylinder becomes a giant wheel at the concluson of Il tabarro. It is an odd touch, and the decision to run seamlessly into Suor Angelica felt awkward. But the vividly characterised nuns were a delight (Paula Iancic's sheepishly glutinous Suor Dolcina is particularly fun), and the two roles that carry this work were masterfully delivered. Michaela Schuster's reproachfully shrill Principessa secretly has a heart, as betrayed with a flash of empathy when Angelica breaks down at her feet. Ermonela Jaho puts in a remarkable performance as Angelica, communicating profound fragility in a luminous tone and really letting rip when the character reaches psychological breaking point. Petrenko favoured a transparent, fluid sound and allowed dramatic tension to accumulate right up to the intense denouement.

Michaela Schuster (Zita) and Ambrogio Maestri (Gianni Schicchi) © Wilfired Hösl
Michaela Schuster (Zita) and Ambrogio Maestri (Gianni Schicchi)
© Wilfired Hösl

A slick Gianni Schicchi provided welcome light relief after the interval. The suspended mirror image of Donati/Schicchi's bed is an obscure detail, but de Beer's eye for detail is in evidence through hilarious details in the opening hive of activity, such as Rinuccio's panicked attempts during the doctor's visit to hide Donati's hand, seen dangling from the trunk into which his corpse has been dispatched. Petrenko's lean rendition dazzles brilliantly, yet this was Ambrogio Maestri's show. He works profound dramtic range and expressivity into the text, and the burly baritone puts in an active and highly comic physical performance. This is an umissable Il trittico.

*****