Il Tabarro / Love's Luggage Lost, Grand Theatre, Leeds

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The Independent Culture

Anyone who thinks that Italian opera is "all the same" should make a point of experiencing the juxtaposition of the second two pieces in Opera North's season of short operas.

Anyone who thinks that Italian opera is "all the same" should make a point of experiencing the juxtaposition of the second two pieces in Opera North's season of short operas. Only a hundred years separate Rossini's sparkling comedy from Puccini's verismo melodrama, yet in all the operatic repertory it would be hard to come up with two more starkly contrasting pieces.

The Rossini is fast and fizzy, light and exuberant, the Puccini dark, brooding, full of tension and melancholy. Il Tabarro is the least performed of Puccini's Trittico, but on the basis of this powerful production and performance, it has a good claim to be considered the best. In not much more than 50 minutes it tells a standard story of love and jealousy, wonderfully evokes the atmosphere of Paris, sketches in half a dozen distinctive characters and offers us a meditation on their wretched world of heavy work and endless poverty. In response to that world, Tinca takes comfort in drink, La Frugola dreams of a cottage in the country, Giorgetta and her lover Luigi yearn to get back on land and enjoy la vie Parisienne. Giorgetta's elderly husband, Michele, broods gloomily on his wife's coldness.

Three strong idiomatic performances lie at the core of this production. As the lovers Nina Pavlovski and Leonardo Capalbo sing with Italianate passion and elegance, while Jonathan Summers as the pipe-smoking husband is powerful and moving, and frightening at the climax, if sometimes stentorian in tone. Capalbo, an Italian-American, is making his European debut in this season. The subsidiary parts were well taken, and Martin Andre achieved an excellent balance of sound from the orchestra. Director David Pountney was back on good form.

After this, it was a relief to be able to laugh at the comedy of disguises of Love's Luggage Lost. It isn't often you hear so much laughter at the opera, and Christopher Alden, the director, had his singers working extra hard to produce it. Alden has chosen to set the piece first on a plane, with the Queasyjet passengers coping with the turbulence of Rossini's orchestral storm, and then in a airport, complete with luggage carousel. Suitcases kept arriving, containing further disguises, which kept some of the cast busy dressing and undressing.

Amusing, but in the end rather too much of a distraction from both the story and the music. Still the words of Amanda Holden's entertaining translation were mostly audible and worth hearing. Iain Paton was the nerdy bridegroom- to-be who is outwitted by the smartypants imposter, Don Parmenion - Mark Stone with the right voice and a strong comic presence. Kim-Marie Woodhouse and Majella Cullagh, feisty as the destined brides, fully shared in the lively spirit of the goings on. David Parry, something of a Rossini specialist these days, conducted an idiomatic performance.

In repertory at the Grand Theatre, Leeds (0113-222 6222), until 22 May, then touring

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