Puccini's Il Trittico comprises three one-act operas performed in a single evening - each requiring its own cast, and each as vocally demanding as anything Puccini ever wrote.
It’s a big ask but the gamble paid off magnificently. Beyond hinting at a Magdalene Laundry in the convent-set second opera, Suor Angelica, director Michael Barry broke no really new ground.
Il Tabarro stayed on its barge in turn-of-the century Paris, and Gianni Schicchi moved from medieval Florence to an entirely appropriate and cartoonishly-colourful Dolce Vita post-war Italy.
But that simply left more scope for the performers to inhabit their roles – and it’s a sign of the current strength of the Conservatoire’s vocal department that each opera contained at least one truly outstanding performance. In Il Tabarro, tenor Bo Zhang as Luigi won the evening’s first ovation, though Amelia Burns’ harrowed and affectingly believable Giorgetta really carried the show, notwithstanding Wesley Biggs’ vocally light but believable performance as her tormented husband Michele.
Gianni Schicchi is much more of an ensemble piece. Here, Barry’s exuberant direction generated a headlong comic energy that trumped some occasional raggedness in the ensemble singing. Sophie Pullen’s Lauretta playfully subverted her own shining moment, O mio babbino caro, with a display of teenage petulance, while Matthew Durkan (as Schicchi) commanded the stage from the moment he entered: a larger-than-life presence with a warm, chuckling baritone.
But the revelation tonight was Suor Angelica – usually viewed as the problem piece of the three. With Elizabeth Ryder in the title role, it was overwhelming. Her Senza mamma was piercing in its controlled intensity, and her stand-off with the coolly sadistic Principezza (powerfully characterised by Ellie Edmonds) became the dramatic climax of the evening – lifted to a shattering level by the conducting of Michael Seal.
Alert and urgent, masterfully paced, and with a near-perfect balance between singers and orchestra, it was hard to believe that this was Seal’s first ever full-length opera. An on-form student orchestra responded with some really sumptuous playing.