Il Tabarro / Suor Angelica: 20/10/2016

Oh well, as someone with a different operatic approach once said, "two out of three ain't bad". These two short operas were originally conceived to be part of a trio, known as Il Trittico, to be performed in a single night but Opera North have opted to put just two of them together. Despite both these operas being tragic (some might even say melodramatic) Puccini's scores contain many shades of emotion and both were sensitively played by the orchestra.

I saw the dark and claustraphobic Il Tabarro some years ago when Opera North ran an innovative season of short operas, all with clearly adult themes. It was atmospheric and moving but this production in a stark set of a dirty shipping container seemingly propped up on the shoreline, appears even darker. The arduous and monotonous life of the barge workers oppresses them all as Giorgetta (Giselle Allen) bemoans the stifling cabin and dreams of returning to Paris with her lover Luigi (David Butt Phillips), both these singers sing with conviction and emotion. Giorgetta's husband, Michele suspects her affair and reminds her of the happiness they once had but we learn of her inconsolable heartbreak after their lost child. Later, Michele catches Luigi returning to meet with Giorgetta. He forces him to confess his love for Giorgetta and kills him. Giorgetta reappears, trying to make up with Michele, but the damage has been done. Michele pulls back his cloak to reveal the body of her lover. 

The theme of a lost child links Il Tabarro to Suor Angelica. After giving birth to her illegitimate baby, which was taken away from her, Angelica has been sent into an enclosed convent. Some years have passed and Angelica has heard nothing of her family or her child. The claustraphobic and restricting atmosphere is beautifully conveyed as the nuns watch the sunlight on a fountain, visible to them only three days each year, and consider whether it is acceptable to miss aspects of the outside world. Angelica's aunt visits the convent to obtain Angelica's signature; her younger sister is to marry and Angelica must sign away her rights to the family name and fortune. While she is there, the aunt (fearsomely sung by Patricia Bardon) cold-heartedly reveals that Angelica's son died two years ago. In despair, Angelica prepares and takes a lethal potion but realises, too late, that she has committed a mortal sin by taking her own life and can never be reunited with her son in heaven and prays for mercy. Despite the uniformity of the nun's habits, the all-female cast make a great job of differentiating the characters. Anne Sophie Duprels singing the part of Angelica is magnificent, her strength rising through deep sorrow as she convincingly conveys the character. The final sequence, as the dying Angelica sees an almost psychedelic vision of her child and walks naked into the darkness, moved me (and others around me) profoundly.