Mediated: Il trittico at La Monnaie – De Munt

Puccini – Il trittico

Il tabarro
Michele – Péter Kálmán
Luigi – Adam Smith
Il Tinca – Roberto Covatta
Il Talpa – Giovanni Furlanetto
Giorgetta – Corinne Winters
La Frugola – Annunziata Vestri
Un venditore di canzonette – Maxime Melnik
Due amanti – Adam Smith, Benedetta Torre

Suor Angelica
Suor Angelica – Corinne Winters
La zia principessa – Raehann Bryce-Davis
La badessa – Elena Zilio
La suora zelatrice – Annunziata Vestri
La maestra delle novizie/La suora infermiera – Tineke Van Ingelgem
Suor Genovieffa – Benedetta Torre
Suor Osmina – Annelies Kerstens
Suor Dolcina – Raphaële Green

Gianni Schicchi
Gianni Schicchi – Péter Kálmán

Lauretta – Benedetta Torre
Zita – Elena Zilio
Rinuccio – Adam Smith
Gherardo – Roberto Covatta
Nella – Karen Vermeiren
Betto Di Signa – Luca Dall’Amico
Simone – Giovanni Furlanetto
Marco – Gabriele Nani
La Ciesca – Tineke Van Ingelgem
Gherardino – Henri de Beauffort
Maestro Spinelloccio/Amantio Di Nicolao – Roberto Accurso

Jeugdkoren van de Munt, Koor van de Munt, Orchestre symphonique de la Monnaie / Alain Altinoglu.
Stage director – Tobias Kratzer.

La Monnaie – De Munt, Brussels, Belgium.  Saturday, April 9th, 2022.

What is opera if not the ultimate form of mediated entertainment?  For his new production of Il trittico at De Munt – La Monnaie, of which tonight was the final performance of the run, Tobias Kratzer sets the action within three different kinds of media: a comic book setting for Il tabarro, in front of a black and white movie for Suor Angelica, and a filmed television sitcom – complete with audience on the stage – for Gianni Schicchi.  In doing so, Kratzer gave us three very different yet complementary settings.  Furthermore, he connected all three operas through visual clues as we progressed through the evening – whether through Michele watching the Gianni Schicchi sitcom on his television while Giorgetta and Luigi got closer, the nuns reading a comic of Il tabarro during mass, or Buoso Donati listening to the closing scene of Suor Angelica just before he expired at the start of Gianni Schicchi

Photo: © Matthias Baus

Kratzer gives us, then, what is a thoughtful and fully considered piece of theatre.  It worked most successfully in Gianni Schicchi, where the sheer awfulness of the family, and their decadent lifestyles complete with on-stage hot tub and bathing suits, contrasted most nicely with the wily earthiness of Schicchi himself.  Kratzer and his cast also brought out the improvisatory nature of the plot in Schicchi, making it seem fresh and utterly, although absurdly, logical.  Tabarro also looked great in an imposing set (Rainer Sellmaier), that gave us a cross-section of Michele’s barge, as well as a view of the port at night, where all kinds of typically port-related activities took place. 

Photo: © Matthias Baus

The imposing set did appear to have a downside, however, in that Michele and Giorgetta’s bedroom at the top right of the set, may have been acoustically compromised.  Singing from there, both Péter Kálmán’s Michele and Corinne Winters’ Giorgetta appeared to be suffering intonation issues that were, in Kálmán’s case, not apparent elsewhere.  It did leave me to wonder if both had trouble hearing the orchestra from there.  In Suor Angelica, it felt that Kratzer’s approach was less successful.  The constant video of the other nuns, even while Angelica was pouring her heart out, drew attention away from the heart-rending story.  The video did amplify the confrontation between Winters’ Angelica and Raehann Bryce-Davis’ Zia Principessa however, but again, I’m not utterly convinced that this was achieved to the detriment of the focus on the principals.  Despite this, the music still managed to weave its spell thanks to Alain Altinoglu’s visionary conducting and the superlative playing of the orchestra.

Photo: © Matthias Baus

Indeed, this evening Altinoglu and his players proved themselves to be one of the greatest opera orchestras in the world.  What Altinoglu has achieved with this band during his tenure, with this astounding improvement in the quality of the playing, is truly remarkable.  This was already apparent in Tristan and Hoffmann a few years back but tonight, Altinoglu led them to an even higher level.  The sheer range of orchestral colour he was able to elicit, the depth of string tone, both lucid and deep-pile thick, with elegant and unanimous portamenti – all of this was testament to a group of players on the top of their game.  In Suor Angelica, Altinoglu built up such an unerring sense of tension, lovingly phrasing the melodies, using each strand to inter-relate and build to a devastating climax and, in so doing, supported Winters’ Angelica to give so fully of herself to us. 

Photo: © Matthias Baus

Indeed, Winters is an exceptionally generous artist.  Her soprano has an attractively dark sheen in the middle, while the top does discolour and tend to chalkiness and lack of spin in the highest reaches.  She also tonight had a tendency to sit on the underside of the note.  That said, she is an extremely watchable stage presence and her performance was enhanced by a staging that made clear the connection between the death of children in both Tabarro and Suor Angelica.  Her Zia Principessa was the electrifying Raehann Bryce-Davis.  Bryce-Davis played la Zia as a powerful, sophisticated woman, one who knew how to hold a room.  She sang her role in a silky, rich mezzo.  The role sits rather low for her, but Bryce-Davis was in complete command of the tessitura, negotiating the lower passaggio with expert ease.  The registers parted company in Elena Zilio’s mezzo a long time ago, but what is undimmed is Zilio’s sheer stage presence.  In both her roles, the textual insight she brought, the staggering energy in her stage acting, all of this would be incredible in someone half her age.  Zilio is a stage animal and we’re exceptionally privileged to have her on our stages. 

Photo: © Matthias Baus

Kálmán sounded slightly out of sorts as Michele, but warmed up impressively for Schicchi.  As Michele, his singing was rather effortful, the tone appearing to come out through dogged determination.  As Schicchi, he was a wonderfully outlandish stage and vocal presence.  His inky bass-baritone was firm and even, and he used the text with clarity and humour.  Adam Smith took on both the roles of Luigi and Rinuccio.  It sounded to my ears that Luigi is something of a stretch for Smith’s current vocal means, leaving me with a sense of someone singing off the capital rather than the interest.  He was a swaggering stage presence, but his tenor sounded reedy and grainy, with the battle to ride the orchestra visible in his body which seemed stiff with the effort of getting the tone out.  Intonation also had a tendency to head south in those repeated high declamatory passages. 

Photo: © Matthias Baus

It would be hard to do justice to the remainder of the very extensive cast.  Maxime Melnik sang his brief ditty in memory of Mimì with a bright, forwardly placed and attractive tenor – indeed, I’d liked to have heard his Rinuccio.  Annunziata Vestri sang la Frugola with a distinctively raspy mezzo and much character illustrated through the text.  In Schicchi, both Karen Vermeiren and Tineke Van Ingelgem blended pulchritudinously in their melismatic phrases.  Of course, Benedetta Torre’s Lauretta had that celebrated number, which she sang with tenderness and long lines in an attractively dusky soprano.  The entire cast, including a significant number of Italian singers – which ensured diction across the board was excellent, together with the chorus, reflected the exceptional standards of the house. 

Photo: © Matthias Baus

This was an evening that highlighted a theatre flourishing musically and dramatically.  We were given a staging that was highly intelligent and created consistent threads throughout the evening – albeit one that did leave me with a few reservations along the way.  Vocally it was more than honourably sung, cast intelligently, and worked exceptionally well with Kratzer’s thoughtful and insightful staging.  But what I left with tonight, was the outstanding orchestra and the gloriousness of their playing under Altinoglu, heightened by hearing them in this warm and generous acoustic.  The evening was received with roars of satisfaction from the capacity audience.  

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