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The second half of the double bill, Gianni Schicchi, was also set in the 1950s. Buoso Donati's room was obviously that of a miser, there was little evidence of his wealth. His family were played by a superb ensemble cast. Gwynne Howell as Simone, Elena Zilio as Zita, Raimir Pirgu as Rinuccio, Jeremy White as Betto di Signa, Christopher Purves as Marco, Marie McLaughlin as La Ciesca, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts as Gherardo, Joan Rogers as Nella, Dina Kuznetsova as Lauretta and of course Bryn Terfel as Schicchi himself.

The relatives formed a well balanced ensemble, making the most of Jones's comic action. The search for the will included tearing up the floor and the ceiling; the dumb-show where the family read the will was a masterpiece of group acting. The costumes indicate the sort of family they are, the men all drab, Nella and La Ciesca in technicolour 1950s dresses and huge bee-hive hair dos, Zita all drab and buttoned up. There were no weak parts, all was a superb ensemble. Zilio's Zita was a masterpiece of understatement -- a long way from the over-done harridan that I have seen in the past.

Albanian tenor Saimir Pirgu was a go-ahead Rinuccio. Perhaps his voice was a little hard-edged but there was no mistaking his ardency. Dina Kuznetsova was another new name. She is American trained and played Lauretta as lively and voluptuous. Her account of 'O mio babbino caro' was a masterpiece, especially as she sang it to Bryn Terfel's hand, the rest of him being hidden behind the door.

It was, of course, Terfel that most people had come to see. His Gianni Schicchi was a fine, comic creation and rightly dominated the proceedings -- Schicchi needs to otherwise the opera does not make sense. But Terfel was very much first amongst equals and never over-dominated things.

The opera can be a tricky one to bring off, some companies try too hard to be funny. Richard Jones and his ensemble obviously had worked very hard and took the comedy seriously, with wonderfully hilarious results.

The pairing of the operas made a good double bill -- the two are sufficiently contrasted to make a good evening's entertainment. But I came away thinking that Puccini had the right of it and that you enjoy the release of Gianni Schicchi even more when it is preceded by the harrowing dramas of Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica. Perhaps Richard Jones could be persuaded to provide a complete Il Trittico for some future season?

Copyright © 25 April 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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