The best performance of the whole week from Opera North was that of Il Tabarro, one half of the Puccini double bill presented as their third programme. It was a revival (by Michael Barker-Caven) of David Pountney’s clearly told, dramatic, moving and dark production, first seen here five years ago as one of the ‘Eight Little Greats’.
Il Tabarro is about adultery, jealousy and murder – always great subjects for opera. Bargeman Michele finds his wife, Giorgetta, is having an affair with Luigi, one of his deckhands … and you can imagine what ensues.
The casting was on a level Opera North don’t always achieve. Giselle Allen is one of the best soprano voices they regularly call on, and her acting skills are second to none. David Butt Philip is that rare thing, a really beautiful young English tenor voice (RNCM and Samling in his training and already spotted by Sir Mark Elder among others) and sang and characterized his Luigi powerfully. Ivan Inverardi is the real thing when it comes to Italian baritones, made for the part and good to hear.
The lesser roles of La Frugola (Anne-Marie Owens), Tinca (Stuart Laing) and Talpa (Richard Mosley-Evans) were also very strong.
On top of that we had one of the most experienced and inspirational opera conductors around with Jac van Steen in the pit. His strengths outclassed those of his colleagues heard at The Lowry this week, with a warm string sound from the orchestra, sympathetic accompaniments and spine-tingling climaxes just right for Puccini.
The new production in this pairing – Suor Angelica, which is the third piece Puccini wrote, alongside Gianni Schicchi, to make up his ‘Triptych’ – was directed by Barker-Craven and had the same sure hand on the orchestra. It wisely took the same realistic, slightly updated approach to the setting and story-telling … yet the story itself gives enormous problems. There has to be some kind of staged ‘miracle’ at the end, as Angelica, the woman who was banished to a convent by her aristocratic family for having a baby outside wedlock, and then learns the child has died, finds divine forgiveness despite taking her own life by poisoning. This was done by filmic means, with somewhat incongruous imagery mixed together – as good a solution as any, but the deliberately sentimental intention of the authors is still hard to convey today.
The singing, though, was first-rate. Anne-Sophie Duprels’ rich tone suits Angelica well, and young, RNCM-trained soprano Soraya Mafi made a real impression as the cheerful and well-intentioned Sister Genoveva, her pure and lovely voice contrasting effectively. Patricia Bardon was a trifle too witch-like as The Princess (dressed in glaring 1960s yellow), but her vocal quality is, as ever, superb. The remainder of the roles demonstrated the excellent quality of the singers’ ensemble that Opera North is now able to field.