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Puccini's Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi

Guildhall School of Music and Drama Theatre, 8 & 14 June 2006

Martin Lloyd-Evans director
Clive Timms conductor
Bridget Kimak designer
Simon Corder lighting designer

Bragi Bergthorsson
Helen Evora
Philip Gerrard
Lenia Safircopoulou
Philip Spendley
Gediminas Varna
Adrian Ward

David Stout

Another notable evening at The Guildhall. This double-bill was played in the usual order, tragedy followed by comedy to have the audience depart in a feel-good mood. I would have preferred that they had experimented with the reverse.

Gianni Schicchi was given as an over-the-top romp, with each character a caricature of a caricature, taking a cue from Commedia del Arte; less subtly (subtlety is not the point) than the balance achieved by, say, Dario Fo in his Rossini productions. The student audience roared with laughter and appreciation of the antics of their confrères, and the whole had been marshalled impeccably by director Martin Lloyd-Evans, with David Stout gleefully turning the tables on the assembled relatives who thought themselve his superiors, the obverse of his genial victim of practical jokers as GSMD's Falstaff.

The dilapidation of the newly dead testator's abode (with peeling wallpaper, sloping floor and door off its hinges) was a neat touch, given the avarice of his expectant dependants. I thought some of the singing more raucous than has to be, with intonation sometimes approximate; nor was the orchestra on top form. I anticipate that this will be an atypical opinion.

Il tabarro was quite other; as fine an integrated a performance as you are ever likely to see; lovingly prepared cooperation by all concerned. To begin with, Bridget Kimak's set, seen before the action commenced; this was truly evocative, a barge by the Seine beached for unloading between assignments, the river water moving below the walkways suggested by Simon Corder's lighting. It served well for Martin Lloyd-Evans' deployment of the large cast of principals and supporting cast. The wearisome thirsty work, carrying sacks ashore, was a telling background for the mounting tension and the scene of frustration, lamenting the lost community life in the suburbs, was a reminder of Turandot's three ministers nostalgia for a better life in the country.

This production had everything right, the primacy of Puccini and his perfectly contructed and inspired score safe on the bedrock of the Guildhall Orchestra under Clive Timms, as fine as I'd ever heard them; the economical but telling portrayal of moods and the build up of tension managed perfectly by everyone on stage; high quality singing by a team cast of future opera singers, some of them likely to become stars.

This was a group achievement, and I will not particularise the singers, save to mention that we found Lenia Safircopoulou exactly right for Georgetta, and moving in her understated portrayal of the woman at the centre of the fatal triangle. Unusually for The Guildhall, there was not a double cast for this production; Serena Fenwick will be amplifying this report from a night in which Katrina Broderick plays Georgetta, and I await with interest whether she shares my somewhat jaundiced response to Gianni Schicch. PGW

SERENA FENWICK reviews the final performance 14 June:

By the time I experienced the double bill reported on by PGW above, the cast had had the benefit of two more performances under their belt and a little extra coaching and rehearsal time.


Our opinions will differ about Gianni Schicchi, but I must begin by endorsing his remarks concerning the staging of Il tabarro – with Bridget Kimak's imaginative set and Simon Corder's lighting creating just that magical effect of moonlight on water, which brought to mind the works of the Skagen school of painters.


The singing equally impressed. The jealous husband Michele perhaps faces the toughest challenge, and whilst it pushed Philip Spendley [pictured] close to his limit, he always managed to contain it both vocally and emotionally. Gediminas Varna, his rival in love, is a true Puccini tenor in the making - his voice still has a few rough edges but that fitted well with the undercurrent of violence that is an essential part of Luigi's character. Georgetta is balanced between them, and Katrina Broderick demonstrated complete mastery of this role, shading her voice to reflect her various strands of emotion.


Philip Gerrard and Helen Evora [pictured] produced a fine “Darby & Joan” partnership as Talpa and Frugola and two more voices that caught my attention in the smaller roles were those of Bragi Bergthorsson (Tinca) and Adrian Ward (The Lover).


Turning to Gianni Schicchi, the first thing that struck me was how interesting it is that GSMD should have chosen to present this in the term following their very successful Falstaff as the two works have so much in common. Gianni Schicchi is of course the last piece for the stage that Puccini completed (he died leaving Turandot unfinished), and, like Verdi, he turned to comedy at this mature stage in his career using a sort of musical shorthand to encapsulate the humour within the heart of the music. Here the parallel was further extended by casting the baritone David Stout in the title role of both operas.


What may have seemed “an over-the-top romp” last Thursday had by tonight been refined to a superb piece of ensemble satire. Martin Lloyd Evans' direction caught every nuance in the music and ensured that it was exactly mirrored in some piece of stage business and each of Buoso Donati's appalling relations was revealed as a completely individual character: Simone (Ritz De Ridder) the stuffy former mayor; Zita (Genevieve King) dowager-like in black furs and feathers, clutching her rosary beads in one hand and her purse even more tightly in the other; Gherardo and Nella (Gareth Huw John and Sophie Angebault) reluctantly confronting middle age and the unpleasant prospect of being overtaken by the younger and upwardly mobile Marco and Ciesca (Marc Scoffoni); the aging and unsavoury Betto (Philip Gerrard) had more than a touch of Wilfred Bramble's Steptoe about him; and Rinuccio (Luciano Botelho) young, yuppie and in love. Their ensemble singing was excellent, individually Sophie Angebault, Marc Scoffoni and Philip Gerrard had the vocal edge.


Into the mix is then thrown Gianni Scicchi (David Stout), a renaissance version of a “ Lincoln Lawyer” with street-wise lightning wits and the nerve to carry off the impersonation of a dead man and dictate a new Will bequeathing the cream of the assets to himself. A very fine and assured performance. His daughter, Lauretta (Milda Smalakyte) looked charming and delivered the ever popular O mio babbino caro winningly.


The set reduced the depth of the stage to ensure the maximum of clarity for words and expressions, just opening out in the closing moments to reveal the skyline of Florence .


A splendid evening – I hope GSMD will be able to complete the Tritico at some future time by giving us the missing Suor Angelica which, to my mind, has the best music of the three.


Serena Fenwick





Gediminas Varna and Lenia Safiropoulou ; Philip Spendley; Helen Evora and Katarina Broderick; David Stout & company: photographer: Nobby Clark