English Touring Opera are on the road again, and as their Puccini double-bill demonstrates, are on top form. James Conway’s direction gives the plot a seamless inexorability, and the murderous denouement is as spine-tingling as I have ever known it in this short masterpiece.
A joy from the first bars
A punchy double bill… this is high-quality farce delivered with unflagging energy
Ensemble work doesn’t get any tighter than this, and the orchestra sounds divine
Independent on Sunday
A barge on the River Seine, Paris, 1910
At sunset, dockhands have almost finished unloading Michele’s barge, anchored off the bank of the River Seine just outside Paris. Michele’s younger wife Giorgetta offers the workers something to drink. They start dancing to the music of a passing organ grinder. Tinca first dances with Giorgetta, but he is soon replaced by the younger Luigi. Michele returns and the men go back to unloading the cargo. Alone, Michele and Giorgetta talk together. Work is scarce, and they discuss which of the workers should be dismissed.
The wife of Talpa, Frugola, arrives concerned about her man’s bad back. She displays the contents of her bag which she has scavenged around the city. Her dreams of a cottage in the country are set against Giorgetta’s longed- for life in a suburb of Paris, where she – and Luigi – grew up. When Frugola and Talpa leave, Luigi stays behind; he and Giorgetta recall their stolen kisses the night before.
When Michele reappears, Luigi asks that he leave him in Rouen the next day. Michele dissuades him. Michele goes down into the cabin, and Luigi and Giorgetta arrange
to meet later, once Michele is asleep: the signal will be a lit match.
Michele and Giorgetta are left alone, and he recalls happier days before their child died, when the family would shelter together under his cloak. Sensing her restlessness, Michele urges Giorgetta to confide in him, to be intimate with
him again. She comforts him, but keeps apart. When she retires to bed, he curses her, and tries to guess the identity of her lover. Michele lights his pipe; Luigi, believing this to be Giorgetta’s signal, approaches the barge. Michele recognises him, makes him confess his guilt and then kills him. Giorgetta returns and Michele, concealing the body under his cloak, asks her to sit next to him. Giorgetta tries to express her remorse, but Michele reveals the body of her dead lover.
The house of Buoso Donati, Florence
The wealthy Buoso Donati has just died. His relatives gather to mourn his passing, but more particularly to learn the contents of his will. Betto, Buoso’s brother-in- law and the poorest in the family, shares the rumour that Buoso has left all his possessions to the monks of Signa.
Following a frantic search by the relatives, Rinuccio finds the will. He withholds it momentarily, making
his Aunt Zita promise that she will consent to his marrying Lauretta, the daughter of Gianni Schicchi. Zita tells Rinuccio that if they all receive their inheritance, he can marry whoever he wants. They read the will, which confirms their worst fears: Buoso has indeed left everything to a monastery.
Rinuccio suggests asking Schicchi for help to resolve their predicament. The family rejects this suggestion, but Schicchi and his daughter Lauretta arrive at the house. A quarrel quickly breaks out, Zita vowing that she will not let her nephew marry a girl who does not have a dowry. Schicchi is furious, but is prevented from leaving by Lauretta, who threatens to throw herself in the river Arno unless she is allowed to marry Rinuccio.
Buoso’s doctor, Spinelloccio, arrives at the house, unaware of the death of his patient. Seeing how to turn the situation to his advantage, Schicchi hides in the bed of the deceased. He imitates Buoso’s voice and sends the doctor away – claiming that he feels better and wants
to rest. Schicchi informs the relatives that, disguised
as Buoso, he will dictate a new will that bequeaths
the estate to the relatives. Overjoyed, they each surreptitiously approach Schicchi, offering to reward him if he leaves the choice properties to them.
The disguised Schicchi dictates a new will to the notary. He distributes the bequests amongst the relatives, but several prized assets he leaves “to my devoted friend, Gianni Schicchi”. The bristling relatives remain silent, otherwise they would be implicated in a fraud for which the penalty is severance of a hand and exile from Florence.
Once the notary has left, Schicchi chases the enraged relatives out of the house, while Rinuccio and Lauretta happily embrace. He enquires of the audience what better use could have been made of Buoso’s fortune than helping the young lovers. And with apologies to Dante, pleads “extenuating circumstances” in asking the audience to return a verdict on him of ‘Not guilty!’
James ConwayDirector (Il Tabarro)
Liam SteelDirector (Gianni Schicchi)
Rory BeatonRevival Lighting Designer
Sarah Jane LewisGiorgetta
Luciano BotelhoYoung Lover/Rinuccio
Galina AverinaYoung Lover/Lauretta
Clarissa MeekLa Frugola/Zita
Dominic J. WalshBallard Singer/Steveadore/Ser Amantio
Maciek O'SheaSteveadore/Maestro Spinelloccio
Joanna Marie SkillettNella
Emma WatkinsonLa Ciesca
Andrew SlaterGianni Schicchi