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Above: Virgilio Marino as Tinca, Olivia Cranwell as Giorgetta, Viktor Antipenko as Luigi and cast in ‘Il Tabarro’. Photo Credit: Keith Saunders. Featured image: Adele Johnston as The Abbess, Sian Sharp as The Monitor and Helen Sherman as Mistress of Novices and Opera Australia Chorus in ‘Suor Angelica’. Photo Credit Keith Saunders.

Il Trittico trionfante! Puccini’s clever theatrical model in which he gets three times the opera to us in the one sitting is currently making a triumphant return to the Sydney Opera House.

The three operas making up Il Trittico are self-contained wonders of brevity. Via this vivid triptych’s strong contrasts, the wide range of emotion and entertainment styles verismo opera can supply is on display.

This marketing masterpiece promoting Puccini’s dramatic vision still hits the mark in 2024 with its less-is-more concise cavalcade of drama. The refreshed versions from a triumvirate of talented directors are stunning as single events and a compelling night out when enjoyed as the full set.

Each instalment in this trio of tales is markedly different in terms of atmosphere, onstage busy-ness and colour palette. The same lighting designer (Verity Hampson) and set/costume designer (Michael Hankin) are used for all three instalments. Some cast are shared across the pieces and the svelte, tessitura of difference from a new director each time explores the real-life stories with stunning impact.

Above: Anthony Michaels as the dead Buoso, Kanen Breen as Gherardo and Alexander Hargreaves as Marco in ‘Gianni Schicchi’ Photo Credit: Keith Saunders.

The triptych elements have a wonderful completeness of their own and an overall keen momentum ensures a lush contrast between them- from grisly unhappiness and infidelity on an oily barge, through pain and secrecy in a convent to farcical sitcom in a last will and testament family fiasco.

A thorough visual update is pleasing within the individual tone of each mini opera. The most challenging vista with its fin-de-boat, walk on eggshells affair is the emotional and seething onstage darkness of Il Tabarro (director Constatine  Costi). A well-voiced cast here presents the score with perhaps the biggest set of extended vocal numbers and also the most brooding, uncomfortable set of characters worn from relationships, hard work and commercial stress.

Amidst the intimidating jealousy of Michele (depicted in perfect sinister silhouette by Simon Meadows), the urgent pursuing of Michele’s wife by Luigi (with penetrating vocal presence by Viktor Antipenko) and a tour de exhaustion and escapism of Giorgetta (Olivia Cranwell) the other characters by the port lighten the murderous mood in puffer jackets and workwear. Their wharf side ingress and egress by a side portal  into the harsh work and lovel life add to the total picture and environment above Puccini’s shimmering soundtrack.

Above: Lauren Fagan as Angelica in ‘Suor Angelica’. Photo Credit: Keith Saunders.

Following the inter-opera interval, the white habits of the nuns in Suor Angelica were lit with a beautiful glow. The ensemble cast are a treat here as some initial typical nun routine is played out around Angelica’s landscaped garden of secret and sorrow and a bright backdrop in contrast to darker pain and predicament.

Director Imara Savage propels the action with smooth swish and layered excellence toward this work’s sudden and complete emotional unravelling. Movement has expert shapes and pace, aided by the Opera Australia Orchestra and conductor Lidiya Yankoskaya’s perfect rendering of Puccini’s expressive musical swathes and scoops.

Standout dramatic portraits and performances in this central instalment came from all cast. The convent vibe was believable and complete. Lauren Fagan’s descent into despair and earthy mess in the garden as Suor Angelica- the nun with a secret and manipulative wealthy family is a consummate stage success. Her vocal fireworks shooting to heaven from the depths of her tragic heart and herb garden are not to be missed. Also the frostiness of La Principessa visiting the convent enclave from Angelica’s family (Angela Hogan ) exudes harsh hostility and a steely vocal excellence.

The version of Gianni Schicchi presented on the busy villa interior set is a masterpiece of comic timing and ensemble acting. Shaun Rennie has created a Gianni Schicchi so engaging to watch with the famous ‘O mio babbino caro’ well in place in the histrionic romp. The flow, with  demanding sung diaogue achieved by the colourful cast whilst coursing around the stage or from one hilarious textured tableaux to the next was theatrical and operatic gold.

Above: Simon Meadows as Gianni Schicchi, Alexander Hargreaves as Marco, Richard Anderson as Simone, Jane Ede as Nella, Adele Johnston as Zita, Angela Hogan as La Ciesca, David Parkin as Betto di Signa, and Kanen Breen as Gherardo in ‘Gianni Schicchi’ Photo Credit: Keith Saunders.

Stacey Alleaume and Tomas Dalton make a fine young couple in the middle of each madcap scene. Soaring vocals as a foil to the racy interjections and dialogue are a higlight. Simon Meadows’ entry as the cynical Gianni Schicchi has a fantastic energy, look and characterisation which is solid and strong amidst the character actors already owning the stage prior to his entry. Such a contrast here to his brooding role as Michele earlier in Il Tabarro.

Such is the beauty of Il Trittico- a triptych opera can take us from violence and darkness through tragedy in a muted environment such as a convent, then seal the entertainment deal with a successful comedy. Shifts of colour, costume and story each hour gives variety and impresses with the successive production.

Opera Australia cast and creatives are well showcased here, as is opera as a medium to experience. Newcomers to opera or existing fans of well-packaged sung drama will enjoy the power of these humanscapes – here so finely wrought and with the sometimes very well-known, always well-matched soundtrack by the opera innovator, Puccini.

Il Trittico continues at the Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre until July 19


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