Puccini / Il Trittico / Metropolitan Opera, 1981 (1)

The cover of this DVD promises that the three one-act operas herein contained “cover the full spectrum of human experience.” This is an ambitious claim. I am not going to dispute it. I am going to leave it alone to fend for itself, and we will see what happens to it.

So. This is a set of three short operas. “Trittico” means “triptych” in English — that is, a set of three things joined together. Usually it refers to a three-panelled altar painting, but it’s not limited to that. The three operas in this case are Il Tabarro or The Cloak, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi. The first is a sordid docklands love story that ends in grim death. The second is a tear-jerker of a convent story that ends in suicide. The third is about the falsification of legal documents. As I said, the full spectrum of human experience.

Let’s start with Il Tabarro. I haven’t listened to any Puccini in a while, and one of the first things that leapt out at me when I was listening to this is that gosh, this really sounds like Puccini. I mean, there were certain bits of the scene where they start pouring out the wine that I literally felt I had heard before. Puccini just . . . sounds a certain way. And he’s a bit self-referential here – the story includes a vendor of cheap print hawking the sad story of Mimi, which the main character, Giorgetta (Renata Scotto), buys. Musically the parts I thought were the most compelling were Giorgetta’s description of Belleville, where she grew up, and Michele’s “Nulla! . . .Silenzio!” section (‘aria’ is not quite the right word with this type of opera) near the end.

This is not an opera that has a ‘hero’ but Vasile Moldoveanu gets the job done as Luigi. I don’t dislike his voice – but I didn’t really get sucked into the performance, either. I liked his sweater very much, and by the end of the opera he had to contend with what I will go out on a limb and call the least convincing opera headlock ever (he was in it, not giving it), so it’s not like he didn’t have my sympathy. And he’s working with a very specific sort of ‘the romance of the working man’ kind of thing that is probably actually quite difficult to pull off in an unselfconscious way.

In general, this is — I always find myself saying this about Met productions from the 1980s — musically high quality in a solid sort of way but the acting ranges from quite good to somewhat puzzling. Renata Scotto was a talented actress as well as a first-rate singer, but it took me until the point at which Giorgetta calls Michele ‘husband’ to work out that the two were married. I didn’t know the story before I saw the opera and I’d figured from the way the staging/acting works in the opera’s opening section that they saw one another every day and were perhaps friendly but that was all. I’m not sure whether this is acting that really works or acting that just barely missed the mark. It could be both. And Giorgetta’s stage scream when Luigi’s body tumbles out of Michele’s cloak at the end was a bit much.

But. The content of the story aside, there is something about the pacing and the structure of this section of the triptych that worked for me. Many full-length operas are like novels, where there are fairly complex character arcs and changes of mood and scene that fit together in specific sorts of ways. This in contrast is more like a short story. There are no breaks – the scenes move into one another very neatly, and the characters have the quality of short story characters rather than novel characters. They have that distilled feeling to them. I’m not saying that I fell in love with Il Tabarro in an emotional or musical reaction kind of way. Just that the form was distinct from full-length opera form, and I appreciated the distinction.

(Next section here.)

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