Classical: Pure kitsch

Puccini's Trittico

ENO, London Coliseum

Shostakovich once asked Britten what he thought of Puccini. "I think his operas are dreadful," came the reply. "No, Ben, you're wrong," said the Russian. "He wrote marvellous operas, but dreadful music." And he also wrote Il Trittico. A triple-bill of one-acters, first seen in New York in 1918, it goes a long way - over a very long evening - to prove just the opposite. Here are three scores that offer plenty of good (if not marvellous) music, but hardly one decent opera between them.

And it's not just the problem of that title, although ENO's refusal to bill it as "The Triptych" clearly concedes the fact that it is no such thing, in the sense of three panels that actually hang together (for which see Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann - or rather, don't: ENO's run ended last night).

As Puccini himself well knew - and maybe it's no coincidence that, with the war still raging in Europe, he offered first bite at the piece to America, the home of fast food - all he had to dish up here was a good, old-fashioned helping of Grand Guignol - a thrill, a weep and a laugh in equal measure. It's the theatrical equivalent of a triple-decker sandwich.

The Big Pooch, ENO could have called it - for, sadly, in Patrick Mason's new staging, it really is a bit of a dog's dinner. Il tabarro, the evening's opener creaks its way to its murderous end with all the unpredictability of The Mousetrap. Any sexual tension it might have had is betrayed by ENO's inability to cast it at anything like the ages specified. As the jealous barge-owner Michele (50, says the libretto, and impotent, say all those pointed references to his pipe's having gone out), Phillip Joll sounds sufficiently old (his tired tone always did, even when he wasn't) but all he does (as usual) is bark: oh, for a bit of colour in that relentless bellow. As his frisky young wife Giorgetta (25) and her toyboy Luigi (20), clearly neither Rosalind Plowright nor David Rendall matches the job description, but she at least sounds comfortable in her part (not perhaps entirely the point), while he has the right open-throated abandon for his. Mason's climax, however, as Michelle forces Giorgetta's lips onto those of the dead Luigi, is simply vulgar.

Nothing, though, compared to the pure kitsch of Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica). The tale of a nun who kills herself when she discovers her bastard baby has died and, instead of being eternally damned, is welcomed into heaven by invisible choirs of angels (ENO's usual botched-up loudspeaker job), the Virgin Mary herself and the nun's now angelic little boy, it's a sick-making excuse for the women's chorus to wander around in white wimples for an hour or so smiling insipidly.

Finally comes Gianni Schicchi, the one surefire hit of the evening - or so one always thinks until one sees it. On record, it's a winner. Here, apart from Andrew Shore's immaculately sung and acted Schicchi - every move instinct with character and comedy - it was just the usual pantomimic hotchpotch of overacted, face-pulling cameos, and the comedy in the music died on stage. I'll have to check my Dante, but isn't there a special spot in hell reserved for opera directors? The conductor, Shao- Chia Lu, it must be said though, is a bit of a find.

In rep to 12 May. Booking: 0171 632 8300

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

    Recruitment Genius: General Processor

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

    Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot