English Touring Opera on top form with double bill of Puccini one-acters

ETO production of Gianni Schicchi. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith

ETO production of Gianni Schicchi. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith - Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

Il Tabarro/ Gianni Schicchi,

English Touring Opera,

Norwich Theatre Royal

A splendid Saturday evening at the Theatre Royal, Norwich!

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English Touring Opera was on top form in a double bill of Puccini one-acters that present an astonishingly wide range of emotions with imagination, psychological insight and musical skill.

A barge unloading at a wharf on the Seine at Paris is the setting for the powerful drama of Il Tabarro. The title refers to a cloak that is drawn aside to reveal the grim end of this realistic drama of impoverished people who cannot escape the bitter tragedy of their life of toil.

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In James Conway's production Sarah-Jane Lewis is a warm-hearted Giorgetta, who dreams of starting a new life with Luigi, Charne Rochford, whose physique matches his powerful tenor voice. As the skipper of the barge, Craig Smith is older, but always in command, of himself as well as of the others, as he shows with a decisive sudden and brutal deed.

Gianni Schicchi, directed by Liam Steel, offers a great contrast. Starting, rather than ending with death, the libretto unites a score of mourners joined not in grief, but in the hope of an inheritance. The story, we discover, is as old as Dante, but the attitudes and the gloriously exaggerated costumes are modern. We must not take things too seriously or we might find the situation ghoulish, with the corpse hardly cold over there in the four-poster bed.

Protests and complaints, hopes and disappointments come thick and fast in glorious confusion. Even love's young dream may be thwarted. The old boy, it turns out, has bequeathed his property to a monastery, but where there is a will there must be a way out. Enter the baritone Andrew Slater as Gianni Schicchi. Can he help?

He hesitates. The family begs him to step in. His daughter (Galina Averina) twists him around her little finger with O My Beloved Father, and an improbable solution is found when the Notary (Dominic Walsh) and the doctor (Maciek O'Shea) are fooled.

Farce, then, as well as tragedy. Puccini's score, conducted by Michael Rosewell, carries both along with striking orchestration and sudden bursts of beautiful melody.

Christopher Smith

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