Review: English Touring Opera’s double bill of Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicci is an absolute triumph of staging, comedy and voice

English Touring Opera present Gianni Schicchi at Cambridge Arts Theatre

English Touring Opera present Gianni Schicchi at Cambridge Arts Theatre - Credit: Archant

Everything that opera can do is here. English Touring Opera’s double bill of short Puccini operas, which reached Cambridge Arts Theatre this week (April 16-21) included the tragic Il Tabarro (the cloak) and the comic opera Gianni Schicchi named after a character who deceives all the others to do a good deed.

Il Tabarro, set on a barge on the Seine in Paris, has Giorgetta, the wife of the barge owner, telling her lover, Luigi, one of her husband’s stevedores, that when he sees a light he will know that the coast is clear for him to come on board. Unfortunately for the couple, the husband, Michele, comes home too soon, lights his pipe and foils the plot. He kills the lover and hides him under his cloak.

Here are stupendous Puccini arias. It is as if the opera singers are riding huge, crashing waves as they soar up in crescendos. Sarah-Jane Lewis as Giorgetta and Charne Rochford as Luigi lift the rafters, especially with their duets but it is Craig Smith as Michele who has the most to do and his song reminding Giorgetta of their lost child is powerful indeed.

By contrast, Gianni Schicchi is a hoot from start to finish. The opening scene is an over-furnished bedroom with a rich landowner, Buoso, lying dead in a four-poster bed. The stage is filled with “grieving” relatives in Edwardian dress, some in boater hats, others sporting feathers.

The opera is delightfully choreographed with the kin-folk turning the place apart looking for the dead man’s will, at one point all throwing papers in the air at the same moment. Their faces have been made up with white greasepaint and exaggerated eye-brows and the effect is of seeing an animated seaside postcard. It’s glorious.

As the hopeful beneficiaries argue over what they will have, one young couple have more to gain than money. They can’t marry unless he inherits. Then everyone discovers that all the money has been left to a monastery. Some kick the bed in fury.

But there is one person who might save the day, the girl’s father, Gianni Schicchi, a learned man. They beg him to come up with something. At first, he says that nothing can be done but then his daughter, Lauretta, persuades him by singing the famous aria O Mio Babbino Caro (Oh my beloved father). Galina Averina sings this not just beautifully but with great humour, at one point giving the audience a crafty thumbs up when she sees the magic is working.

Most Read

Gianni Schicchi (a masterful Andrew Slater) says well there is just one chance. They must hide the dead body in the cupboard, he will get into the bed as the still alive Buoso. They must call the lawyer and he, Schicchi, will dictate a new will.

He does, leaving the most valuable part of Buoso’s estate to himself so that he can help the young couple. There is nothing the relatives can do about it because in revealing the ruse, they will implicate themselves.

This comic confection is a privilege to see and hear. Absolute perfection. A performance to die for.