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Torquemada Bonaventura Bottone
Concepcion Ruxandra Donose
Gonzalve Yann Beuron
Ramiro Christopher Maltman
Don Inigo Gomez Andrew Shore

Thomas Allen
Lauretta Maria Bengtsson
Rinuccio Stephen Costello
Simone Gwynne Howell
Zita Elena Zilio
Betto di Signa Jeremy White
Marco Robert Poulton
La Ciesca Marie McLaughlin
Gherardo Alan Oke
John Upperton
Nella Janis Kelly
Maestro Spinelloccio Henry Waddington
Ser Amantio di Nicolao Enrico Fissore
Pinellino Nicholas Garrett
Guccio Paul Goodwin-Groen

Conductor Paul Wynne Griffiths
Director Richard Jones
Set Designer John Macfarlane
Costume Designs Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting Mimi Jordan Sherin
Choreography Lucy Burge
Illusionist Paul Kiee

Royal Opera House, London 22 October 2009

  Double bill at Royal Opera House

L'Heure espagnole

Gianni Schicchi


A comfortable short evening's entertainment at the Opera. The stories of these now well known one-acters don't need rehearsing for this revival; they are traversed in other reviews.

We would point out that from the rear of the stalls in the large Covent Garden auditorium the Rossini came off far better than the smaller scale Ravel. A lot of the orchestral subtleties of L'Heure espagnole got a little lost and, although the timing seemed to be as firmly prescribed by the composer in his title (and indeed written into the score with the chiming of the town clock) it did seem to drag a little under reserve conductor Paul Wynne Griffiths, deputising for Antonio Pappano.

It probably suits a smaller house better. Opportunities for full throated singing are limited; real emotion is eschewed. An illusionist is listed, but the flimsy clocks never looked heavy whatever their supposed contents. It is always good to see Wendy Ebsworth in the wings but we wondered how many of the audience were following the opera through her signing rather than by the surtitles?

We confessed to each other a little disappointment when the interval arrived on cue, and our feelings were well put at the original 2007 performance by Seen&Heard:

I don’t think Richard Jones quite had his heart in this - - there are precious few laughs at the start but it picks up a bit - - however the joke wears a little thin and Richard Jones has probably realised this by the finale where we have six statuesque Las Vegas showgirls to add sparkle to the Habanera - - all good fun but also a near miss.

Gianni Schicchi is a masterpiece and in our experience never fails; for some afficionados it is the finest of all Puccini's operas. Richard Jones' production allows the music to drive the action in moment by moment detail; would that that could be said about more of today's directors.

No problem with the orchestral scoring, it fills the auditorium and the voices each take their opportunities. Here Wynne Griffiths' pacing felt exactly right. We hung on every bar and the characterisations were spot on; smiles and laughs from beginning to end. This from Financial Times sums it all up exactly:

The Puccini bursts into life the minute the curtain goes up and never falters. Jones’s depiction of a 1950s Italian family saga, where the younger generations are hanging on for the old man to die, is like a comic middle-class counterpart to The Godfather. Every seedy character is beautifully observed. Thomas Allen, joining the cast from Woody Allen’s production in Los Angeles, plays the crafty Gianni Schicchi as a wicked blend of blue-collar spiv and subtle schemer. Among Schicchi’s predatory relatives all manner of human species are on display – Elena Zilio’s termagant Zita; Marie McLaughlin’s still-glamorous La Ciesca; Janis Kelly’s grasping Nella; and the contrasting middle-aged males of Robert Poulton’s Marco and Alan Oke’s Gherardo – and there are nice cameos from the local worthies of Henry Waddington’s doctor and Enrico Fissore’s lawyer. Maria Bengtsson, with her unusual smoky light soprano, and Stephen Costello make a touching young couple as Lauretta and Rinuccio.

Covent Garden's (expensive) programme book was better than usual, taking advantage of the show being a revival by including copious colour photos - even two-page spreads - from the original production, together with a collection of historic photos and really illuminating essays; I cannot resist sharing with you the illustration to George Hall's "Puccini making people

The two young lovers were particularly affecting.

Peter Grahame Woolf