Thursday, 21 April 2011

ETO's Puccini Double Bill, or Simple is Best

I realise that here at wheresrunnicles we are joining the critical chorus on this show rather late in the day, but, and here's something we don't say very often, they are completely right. These are two little one act gems, and if you haven't yet caught them, there is still just under half the far flung tour left in which to do so.

As the title of this review indicates these are beautiful little productions. Both stagings reflect the text (with impressively detailed sets considering these are touring shows) from the berthed barge in Il Tabarro to cluttered room of death complete with bird-cage adorned balcony in Gianni Schicchi. There are no points of bafflement or fury in these stagings at all. The same commendable simplicity applies to the movement. Both James Conway (Il Tabarro) and Liam Steel (Gianni Schicchi) create effective tension between their protagonists without any of the fussiness or downright idiocy of so many modern operatic productions. The stillness and snatched glances of the first half are a long way from the caricatures and physical comedy of the second, but both are embued with real dramatic intelligence. The highlight though, is Liam Steel's (at least I presume it was Steel's) brilliant piece of silent comedy extracted from the single order in the text to go and feed the birds and hilariously executed by Paula Sides (Lauretta). All I can say about this is that most of the scheming about the will in Gianni Schicchi passed me by as I tried to stifle my increasingly hysterical laughter.

The singing is of a similarly high standard. Charne Rochford (Luigi) is the standout in Il Tabarro, with a ringing tenor sound that was ideally suited to the style of the music. Simon Thorpe (Michele) occasionally lost volume but was dramatically highly convincing. Julie Unwin (Giorgetta) acted the role perfectly and there is no doubt about the power of the voice, but I found her just occasionally a little sour at the top. In the comedy, Richard Mosley-Evans (Gianni Schicchi) is spot on, managing the variety of voices required with ease. Among the ghastly crew of relatives turns from Clarissa Meek (Zita – also a nicely judged old crone as Frugola in Tabarro), in old battle axe mode, and Arwel Huw Morgan (Simone) stand out but it is very much an effective ensemble performance. Ashley Catling's Rinuccio perhaps suffered a little by comparison with Rochford's Luigi in the first half, the voice not quite having the same power, but it isn't a serious problem. Paula Sides, as well as being a first rate silent comedian, brings off the signature tune with beauty and ease. In the pit, Michael Rosewell successfully builds the dramatic tension in both works having always a sense of forward movement and drawing high quality playing from the orchestra.

The list of boxes ticked by this double bill is an impressive one. The casting of a mostly young, but high quality ensemble. A production that coherantly tells the story. Performances in all sorts of parts of the country that don't usually see live opera. It is especially instructive to see this show having sat through most of the English National Opera's weak season of new productions. If I had it in my power, I would frog march John Berry off to Wolverhampton for the performance on May 3rd for an object lesson in staging opera. My god he needs it. Perhaps he would at least like to consider hiring either of these two talented directors rather than inflicting yet more incompetent operatic neophytes on us next season. In the meantime I'm looking forward to my return visit this evening for Tobias Picker's Fantastic Mr Fox.

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