Archive | March, 2016

Heavy Boris

22 Mar

Boris Godunov is one of those operas that I can sort-of admire while rarely feeling that I’ve had a satisfactory evening watching it.  I tend to go feeling that I ought to like it and see it as a masterpiece, but never quite do.  The, rather good, performance of the Royal Opera’s new production which I saw on 21 March did nothing to change that view.  At best it’s an interesting failure.

The fashion today is to try to get as near as possible to Mussorgsky’s original intentions and, for this production, the ROH went for the original 1869 version, rejected by the St Petersburg management.  Frankly, I’m with that management.  As it stands, this is little more than an interesting draft of some episodes from Pushkin with little unifying them.

For opera houses, of course, it has the advantage of lacking a Polish Act, so it is cheaper, and you can turn it into a short evening140 minutes.  It also tempts directors to try to get it all through in one sitting.  We miss also quite a lot of rather attractive music to leaven what is otherwise a pretty dark, heavy evening.  There’s no over-arching idea or story and, while five of them concentrate, if indirectly, on Boris – the Pimen scene and the Inn scene feel out of place, irrelevant and deeply tedious.  And then there are the vocal lines, which to Russian ears may be expressive settings of the text, to non-Russian speakers sound repetitive and unimaginative.

Of course there are some great things: Boris’s monologues (though how much more grateful they are in the later version), the dialogue with Shuisky and the death scene.  And the orchestration is fabulous – Mussorgsky creates atmosphere wonderfully: it’s a skilful, intense score, atmospheric.  But it also feels long and ill-paced.  It’s all narration and very little action. More than two hours of this with no break felt like quite a trial.  Equally, it’s hard to see where you’d put the break and that, of itself, suggests that there’s something wrong with the piece.

Richard Jones’s production did his best with the piece.  There’s lots of good stuff in it – the set is mostly a black box but with an upper tier that is lighter, looking almost like the top of an icon or a church.  You can see Dmitri being murdered, Boris vacillating about the crown and as a place where people can watch.  You get the sense of treachery and intrigue.  The crowd is moved really well (so that you’d rather like the other scenes with them), the debate between the boyars, clear and political.  Mostly, the stage pictures are as strong as you expect, though the Inn scene feels vast, which surely it shouldn’t be.  And there’s very strong direction of the principals: he gets great acting performances out of them. The final picture of Boris dead and, on the upper level, Dmitri advancing on Fyodor with the boyars and Shuisky watching was excellent, struck me as spot-on.

And yet there are signs of repetition of the Jones tics – these will get to feel like laziness, if he’s not careful. In Macbeth, he used moving cardboard boxes to good effect.  Here, it was the child Dmitri’s spinning top moving across the stage.  We see the murder five times.  That’s too many. If this wasn’t, for me, one of Jones’s very finest pieces, however, it was still a good production that ought to be readily revivable – I wonder if he could expand it to cover the longer versions.

The cast was great and without a weak link.  Bryn Terfel is one of those singers who have the sheer size of personality and charisma to make Boris work.  He created a tortured, guilt-ridden, relatively sympathetic character.  Vocally, I  prefer a blacker, slightly richer sound – Christoff, Lloyd or Tomlinson – but you can’t argue against the sheer power of the voice and his ability to fine it down to soft pianissimo when he needs to.  He creates the anger, the pathos and the guilt of the man outstandingly.

Ain Anger was a very fine, dark, certain Pimen (even though my heart sank in the last scene when, just as it looked as though we were about to end, we were clearly going to have yet more narration); David Butt Philip made a really good Grigory – I think that his voice is really well suited to this sort of role and his acting was excellent.  John Graham Hall made a nicely subtle politician of a Shuisky – watching all the time and beautifully contrasted with Terfel.  And John Tomlinson was Varlaam – voice showing no sign of age and a beautifully acted, not quite over the top performance.

We had a boy as Fyodor and Ben Knight sang strongly and acted really well.  Rebecca du Pont Davies as the Hostess and Sarah Pring as the Nurse had even less to do than usual, but were fine.  Vlada Borovko mourned convincingly as Xenia.  The other roles were all really well done.

The chorus was on outstanding form.  The big crowd scenes were clear, passionate and completely committed.  It’s hard to ask for better.

Antonio Pappano conducted.  As you expect, this was clear, beautifully played Mussorgsky.  It sounded great and the orchestra played marvellously: he unleashed a huge volume of sound where necessary, but .refined it down for the intimate moments.  I still have memories of the sound that Abbado created in 1983 and the sheer visceral intensity that he brought to the score – a performance that I’ve always put alongside the Kleiber Otellos as among the great conducting performances I’ve heard.  Pappano didn’t quite match that, but this was as good as we have any right to expect.

So all the ingredients were there.  You can’t not admire the performance.  I just wish that Boris were a more satisfactory opera.

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Pia di Tolomei – not quite a masterpiece

11 Mar

After last year’s Il furioso nell’ Isola di San Domingo, English Touring Opera moved to another Donizetti rarity – Pia de’ Tolomei. It’s one of his late Italian operas, written for Venice to a libretto by Cammarano and based, rather loosely, on a passage in Dante. I went over to Hackney on 10th March to see the UK stage premiere.

It’s another Guelphs/Ghibellines sort of story. Pia’s family are Guelphs, but to try to achieve peace, she has been married to the Ghibelline, Nello. His brother, Ghino, is in love with her but takes advantage of an intercepted letter, which seems to show that she is seeing another man, to persuade Nello that she’s unfaithful. In fact, the letter is from her brother, Rodrigo, whom she is helping escape from her husband’s dungeon. Got it so far?

The first act sets up the position in a series of entrance arias and cabalettas leading to a finale where Rodrigo meets Pia, escapes through a secret passage and Nello is only just stopped from killing Pia and ending the opera an hour early.  I can understand why the Venetians were a bit disappointed with this: it doesn’t have quite the sense of scale or excitement that, say, that for Il furioso has, let alone, Act II of Lucia or Act III of Favorita.  Mind you, the duet for Pia and Rodrigo is gorgeous and the ensuing trio and stretta are perfectly good.

In the second act, the mistake is unravelled but not before Nello has been defeated in battle and had Pia poisoned – she dies urging peace.  There’s a rather good Verdian chorus opening the act for the Guelphs and then a splendid duet for Pia and Ghino where he repents.  He meets the defeated Nello with a group of hermits and confesses before he dies.  Nello dashes off to try to save Pia and arrives too late.  The final scene – a gorgeous aria for Pia turning into a duet for her and Nello – is the finest part of a good, solid, enjoyable evening.

The problem is that it doesn’t quite add up to a satisfying whole.  Donizetti originally wanted it to be a taut melodrama concentrating on the three leads.  When he arrived in Venice, however, he discovered that he had to expand the role of Rodrigo for a promising young mezzo (possibly the director’s mistress).  There are at least two excellent numbers for the role but nothing in the second act until the very end.  For Naples, he was required to have a happy ending and there were other bits and pieces of reworking.  This performance kept Rodrigo’s arias, added the chorus and kept the tragic ending. It’s still quite a short opera – less than two hours of music and at times it feels a bit perfunctory – and it’s hard to feel that it’s a forgotten masterpiece.

On the other hand, there is some super music: all of the arias of a high calibre and the duets in the second act for Pia and Ghino and Ghino and Nello are outstanding. As I’ve suggested, Donizetti saves his best for the last scene and the death of Pia and her reconciliation.  It’s touching, effective music and the characters are typically well drawn. It didn’t strike me as having anything of the originality of his later Paris operas but it’s still an effective and enjoyable evening, particularly for those of us who can’t really get enough Donizetti and wish people would explore things beyond Maria Stuarda.

James Conway’s production did the piece effectively enough. It was set on what looked like the set of one the other operas that they’re doing, turned round – all scaffold and rostra. Not exactly a delight for the eye, but it concentrated you on the characters and, since it didn’t look like anything in particular, worked fine for scenes set in the court, a dungeon and a swamp. Costumes were a bit of a mishmash but, again, did the trick. His direction was efficient, considerate of his actors and allowed you to follow the plot and the emotions. This isn’t meant to be patronising: clarity is an under-rated virtue in opera production and the obvious constraints of a low budget really didn’t spoil the enjoyment.  He played the opera for exactly what it was worth.

I thought there was some smashing singing. Elena Xanthoudakis was an outstanding Pia – she may not be Joan Sutherland, yet, but this was full bodied singing, accurate coloratura and she sang a really meltingly lovely last scene.  She can come back in Donizetti at any time.

Luciano Botelho as Ghino has a rather lighter tenor than you’d ideally like and the top notes were managed rather than easy – but they are quite high and there are a lot of them. He presented a credible figure. Grant Doyle was splendid as Nello – I think his voice suits Donizetti rather well and he conveyed the anger and mix of emotions really well. Catherine Carby was a very fine Rodrigo, making you wish that the role was longer. Piotr Lempa as a passing hermit, made a strong impression too.

John Andrews conducted – I thought he caught the style well and had the orchestra playing dramatically, alertly. The music came over well and the whole thing sounded like very high quality Donizetti indeed.

This, on paper, is just the sort of piece ETO shouldn’t be doing – a bel canto piece really needing singers and productions standards out of their range. In fact, they showed that it’s possible to make a convincing, enjoyable case for the opera without breaking their bank.  It’s well worth a visit.

Bad mood for May Night

8 Mar

I apologise in advance for this discussion of the Royal Academy of Music’s performance of Rimsky-Korsakoff’s May Night on 7th March.  I had not had the easiest day and my mood wasn’t really helped by the ambience at the start of the performance.  In fact, I was quite surprised at how far the ghastliness of the entrance to Ambika P3, where the the piece was being performed affected my approach to the show.

The RAM theatre is being rebuilt (good). They decided to stage their spring production, therefore at Ambika P3 (bad). I’m not sure what this place is normally, but it feels as though it’s some sort of incomplete aircraft hangar.  The entrance is on the Marylebone Road.  You go down some metal fire-escape stairs and then have a thoroughly depressing walk which feels as though you are going round the back entrance of some dodgy factory into a concrete bunker, where you collect your tickets. You are then sent down more fire-escape stairs and round several corners to a holding area where a very small table sells drinks.

You are then allowed in to the auditorium – with badly lettered rows and the most uncomfortable seats I have sat in for a long time. There is barely enough light to read the programme. Christopher Cowell’s description of the plot in there is so garrulous that I lost the will to live about half way through Act I.  People had arguments about where they are sitting. The performance starts 7 minutes late. I have a busy day tomorrow. I was feeling irritable.

The overture was lumpily played by the orchestra and sounded unconvincing (though there was some nice string playing in places). When the chorus begins, you realise that the surtitles are rather small, badly placed and not easy to follow. Mood worsens.

The opera itself ought to be a charmer, but somehow isn’t. It’s a story of Ganna and Levko who are in love but have the problem that Ganna’s father, the village Mayor (here called the Headman), has his eyes on her too.  All is saved by the local troupe of distressed water nymphs who have a stray witch among their number. The hero identifies the witch and he gets a deus ex machina to allow him to marry. There’s a would-be comic second act where people wreck the Headman’s posh dinner with the Distiller who is about to convert the local haunted house into a brewery. You can see the scope for fun.

Except that it isn’t. The pace is slow, the mood witless. You’re desperate for a bit of fun. Ganna spends ages trying to persuade Levko to tell her the story of the haunted house so that you want to shout at him to get on with it. The chasing of Ganna by the Henchman is unexciting. The second act lumbers, stiffly.

I think part of this is due to the libretto and Rimsky’s setting of it (it’s his first full opera) and part to Christopher Cowell’s production which looks good but has absolutely no wit or comic edge. I think that a decent English translation might have helped a good deal, as might a venue where the characters don’t have to walk several miles in order to get on stage.

So were there good things? Well, Rimsky’s orchestration is a joy and, I have to admit, the acoustics in the Ambika P3 were excellent – warm, clear and making voices sound good. The RAM had evidently spent a lot on this and it showed.  There’s lots to enjoy in the pit and, after a rough-ish overture, the orchestra under Gareth Hancock warmed up very nicely.

The singers were very fine indeed. I was hugely impressed by Oliver Johnston’s hefty Slavic-sounding tenor as Levko – clear, attractive, strong singing and a nice stage personality. Ditto for Laura Zigmantaite as Ganna – a lovely clear soprano which will be ideal for Tatiana and, I should think Mozart, Agathe and that sort of role. Alex Otterburn as Kalenik, the village drunk, displayed an excellent baritone even if he couldn’t make the character remotely comic. Bozidar Smiljanic has a very fine bass voice and made a nasty, arrogant Headman and William Blake showed a clear character tenor and subversive personality as the Distiller.

Cowell’s production was efficient but with little wit or invention. It was set in a distillery: Bridget Kimak’s design looked good. Mandy Demetriou provided some good choreography which was performed with great gusto and impressive precision by the chorus. They sang well, too.  It just wasn’t very funny and I think that you’re meant to laugh, or at least be charmed, rather than rather bored and irritated.

I left after the second act, unable to face sitting in that horrible venue on uncomfortable seats any longer. If Act III is a masterpiece, then that is my loss. Whatever the strengths of this performance (and I stress that the music and singing was really good and suggested very strong careers for the leads), they were undermined by the fact that the opera just isn’t strong dramatically, by the problems of an unsympathetic venue and charmless production, and by me being in a bad mood. Sorry.

Strong Opera North Chenier

6 Mar

You wait thirty years for an Andrea Chenier and then two come along in quick succession.  Following the ROH’s luxury, all-star version last year, Opera North have come up with, their essential or, perhaps “value” version on, I imagine, a pretty small fraction of the budget.  I caught it in Newcastle on 5th March.

It’s good to see the piece again and I can feel that I’m begin to get something of a soft spot for it.  I like the mixture of public and private, I think that the portrayals particularly of Gerard and Maddalena are very strong indeed and I rather enjoy the music.  It may not be earth-shatteringly original; it may be slightly slow moving in places, but I rather enjoy seeing a pretty well made opera which has strengths even if it’s not quite the way Puccini would have done it.  In a performance as good as this, it feels like a strong, convincing opera.

Opera North’s big advantage is that it works in relatively small, intimate theatres where you can get away with voices that probably wouldn’t work at Covent Garden and avoid lavish sets so that you can concentrate on the plot and on the characters.  There’s a concentration about this that works and which enable different effects, provided that you’ve a good cast and director.

Annabel Arden’s production was very strong indeed.  Joanna Parker’s set is bare-bones – screens of chain mail (the servants also wear this in Act I) and scaffolding provide a very flexible arrangement for the different locations – a huge staircase and windows for Act I, an auditorium for the trial in Act III, a bare stage for the last act.  In Act I, instead of hordes of servants doing extravagant routines, you have a single chaise longue and Gerard’s father weighed down by a huge harp.  The poor stick their hands through the chains which is all you see of them.  The smaller stage means a smaller group of people for the party, but you can concentrate on who is who, get more out of the conversations and the Chenier/Maddalena/Gerard triangle is strongly set up.

In Act II, there’s a palpable sense of fear and uncertainty: characters shifting, spying – and the spies are not remotely funny.  The chorus turns convincingly into an angry crowd, staring straight out at the audience at the end.  This continues into Act III where you sense that Gerard’s power is fragile but the confrontation between him and Maddalena is intense and convincing and the pared down approach continues to the final scene.  The great conversations come over truly, between individuals with great emotions rather than cardboard characters.  You get this in an intimate auditorium on a small-ish stage to an extent that you simply cannot at the Royal Opera House.

It was outstandingly well cast.  Annemarie Kremer made an entirely convincing, strongly sung Maddalena.  She sang with a clear simplicity that made her obsession with Chenier convincing.  The big Act III aria was sung in a way which made you follow the emotions and words and understand what she was going through.  Her voice is large and, managed the climaxes with no trouble at all.  I’d love to see her do Tosca here.  What about Turandot?

Robert Hayward’s voice isn’t the most beautiful instrument but he can convey that sort of decent, angry, conflicted emotion that this role needs as well as anyone else.  This was an intensely honest, open portrayal of the role and he has the heft for it.

In the title role Rafael Rojas again, has the power for the role and, again, sang intelligently.  The big ideas of the Improviso and the last aria were built superbly.  He’s not necessarily a convincing revolutionary hero but he portrayed a thoughtful, honest outsider.

But is wasn’t just this trio.  The smaller parts were done without a single weak link.  I expected Fiona Kimm to be excellent as the grotesque Countess and the simple Madelon, but Ross McInroy as the gaoler and Dean Robinson as Fleville, both from the chorus, made really strong impressions. Anna Dennis was an excellent Bersi, Phillip Rhodes, a new name to me, was a very strong, sympathetic Roucher and his voice struck me a very promising.  Daniel Norman doubled the Abate and Incredibile very effectively indeed – neither were comic or figures of fun.  This detailed direction created just the sense of community that this opera needs.

I’ve left Oliver von Dohnanyi last, but his vivid, very clear conducting was as central to the success as Ms Arden’s direction.  He paced it convincingly, caught the passion and terror and phrased the numbers idiomatically.  You didn’t notice any gap between music and staging.  The Opera North orchestra was on superb form.  This was gutsy playing from the heart.  The chorus seemed to be having a great time.

Now I’m not arguing that this performance could have worked in the much larger spaces of the Royal Opera House or that Messrs Rojas and Hayward are in the same league as Kaufmann and Lucic, but in a smaller auditorium, with more daring, interesting direction and equally committed conducted, this Chenier packed as great a punch.

The opera hasn’t been done in the North in living memory and this audience had the opportunity to see it in as good a light as possible.  It demonstrates why I love Opera North – the ability to do projects that ought to be over-ambitious but which they in ways which are practical and which succeed triumphantly.

Compelling Cosi from Opera North

5 Mar

Tim Albery has had the monopoly on Cosi fan tutte at Opera North for the last fifteen years or so.  His first, with designs by Martin Howland, in 1997 had a set that slowly collapsed in the Act I finale.  His second has designs by Tobias Hoheisel and I caught its third outing at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle on 4th March.

Albery is back to rehearse it with an entirely new cast and this performance had the freshness and questioning that you’d expect in a brand new production.  He portrays it as an experiment by Don Alfonso – the women are in a vast 18th century camera and the action takes place there.  At the end, Alfonso is left alone in there while the lovers have escaped outside.  It is as if he has helped them grow up.

Costumes, rather like Anthony Besch’s Scottish Opera production begin in greys, the officers and girls not too easily distinguishable.  As the opera goes on the colours become more vibrant, characters more distinctive.  Unlike Besch, these people do not revert to convention and the monochrome at the end, but are traumatised, unable to relate to each other.  Both readings work.

The direction of the singers was alert and truthful.  Despina had her doubts about joining Alfonso’s plots – persuaded by money. Ferrando’s love for Dorabella was as palpable as I’ve ever seen in Un aura amorosa – sung directly to Alfonso, who was looking distinctly guilty at this point.  At the end, the lovers hadn’t a clue who was in love with whom.  You sensed that both Alfonso and Despina had had some bad experiences in the past.  You followed the emotions like a play.

The cast is very strong indeed.  Nicholas Watts is stretched to his limits by some of Ferrando’s music, but the sheer intelligence of it and his committed acting made you over look the occasional shortness of breath.  Gavan Ring is a glorious Guglielmo: it’s a splendid, rich voice and he created a fine, impulsive character.

Maire Flavin was an outstandingly good Fiordiligi: she caught the conflict between what she knew to be right and the temptations offered by Dorabella and Despina.  I thought that her singing of both Come scoglio and Per pieta was glorious and she caught the conflict marvellously.  Helen Sherman was rather more anonymous as Dorabella, but she sang well and acted alertly.

William Dazeley was a really strong Alfonso – nasty, certain, in command and really strongly sung.  Ellie Laugharne’s Despina was also excellent – just the right mixture of seriousness and lightness and I thought she sang both arias really well – much more than the usual soubrette.

The piece was sung in English with excellent diction from the men, less clear from the women but, above all, there was the sense that you were following a play in which what happened was natural and true.

Jac van Steen conducted – fast tempi for the overture and for Soave sia il vento – I think he could have allowed that to breathe a bit more.  He slowed down later.  Orchestra was generally pretty good.

Great to see pretty full house for this and an audience that was patently enjoying and engaging with the wonderful opera.  You left disturbed, exhilarated and admiring the sheer genius of Mozart and da Ponte in creating an opera that, even after 28 visits, can still reveal more.

Elisir at Opera North

4 Mar

Opera North’s L’elisir d’amore has always been one their happier productions and the latest revival, which I caught on 3rd March at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, proved fresh, alive and hugely enjoyable.

I’m fond of Elisir. It’s a beautifully human opera about character, with a gentle humour and real emotion which Donizetti charts wonderfully.  It’s a leisurely piece which gives the characters time to develop and this was what Daniel Slater’s excellent production caught.

He’s updated it. Adina owns a hotel, Nemorino is a waiter and there’s an assorted chorus of guest, police, a priest and a real doctor who is suitably upset by Dulcamara.  There are lots of nice, gentle jokes, plenty of colour and nothing to distract badly from the principal characters.  My only reservation comes with the fact that the curtain comes down to clear the stage in the middle of each act: it shouldn’t need to, particularly in Act II because there’s a nice momentum building up and this interrupts it.

Slater was back on hand to rehearse a bright young cast.  I loved the way he got the characters right: Belcore genuinely in love with Adina and she clearly regretting this from the beginning of Act II.  It’s neatly choreographed to just the right extent; Dulcamara has a a child assistant who manages to avoid entirely being irritating – easily the most successful assistant for him that I’ve seen in any production.  I don’t think you could ask for a more enjoyable production of it.

The cast is pretty good.  Jung Soo Yun struck me as someone to watch as Nemorino.  He has a lovely, Pavarotti-ish tenor which I thought he used with a lot of taste and confidence.  I’m not sure how he’d work in a larger theatre but this was intelligent, very beautiful singing and I thought he did Una furtiva lagrima really beautifully.

Gabriella Iştoc was a sympathetic Adina, intelligent and decent and you felt that this opera was a journey for her as much as for Nemorino.  Vocally, she was expressive, her voice is bright, clear and I thought that she did the series of duets with, again, good taste and understanding.

Duncan Rock is always watchable and his Belcore, a bit less exaggerated than usual gave you the sense, as I’ve suggested of someone who really cares for Adina.  He sang with a good sense of the style even though I suspect he’s more comfortable in Mozart and Britten.

Richard Burkhardt has a light-ish voice for Dulcamara, but he puts across the notes and the words really well and he’s a super actor.  His comic timing and range of expressions was perfect for the role.  Like all of them, it’s less exaggerated than usual and that’s no bad thing.  I loved his drinking the “elixir” himself before trying to get Adina in their Act II duet.

Fflur Wyn made a really attractive, positive Gianetta, singing really well – very strong casting here.  Chorus was in good form and seemed to be enjoying itself.  Tobias Ringhorn conducted and kept the piece moving.  I’ve heard more idiomatic Donizetti conducting in my time and smoother orchestral playing, but it did the job perfectly well.

It was sung in Italian which, I felt, was a shame.  While the Italian obviously fits the music, you lose the direct communication with the audience.  It was nice to hear Jung Soo Yun and Gabriela Iştoc but there are surely other English singers out there? The surtitles, I suppose, did the job.

A good, happy evening that kept me smiling and enjoying this gorgeous, funny, rather touching opera.

Trittico returns

1 Mar

Richard Jones’s production of Puccini’s Trittico is one of the finest pieces of the work that the ROH has produced in recent years and it was high time for a revival.  Jones, together this time with Nicola Luisiotti, make these pieces seem like masterpieces – three perfectly paced, beautifully detailed miniatures that provide an outstandingly contrasted evening. While they do work as pieces on their own, somehow they fit together beautifully to make a satisfying whole.

Jones’s productions are among his finest. It’s possible to imagine other stagings being as effective but none significantly more so. He manages to rein in his trademark tics to the extent only that they feel appropriate and right.  He doesn’t try to unite the three operas artificially.  These are three different pieces and he makes the differences work.
In Tabarro, I love the way in which he catches the atmosphere of the slow Parisian evening, the passers by and the world going on outside (I’d missed or forgotten the way in which he undercuts the two lovers). You don’t sense a gap between the music and the production. And he builds up the tension in those swift final moments brilliantly.

The cast for Tabarro came in for some stick on the first night. They seemed pretty good for me. I preferred Patricia Racette as Giorgetta to the first run’s Eva Maria Westbroek – she’s a more understated performer, the voice, for me, more focussed. I thought that she acted the disappointed, frustrated wife marvellously, singing strongly, intensely. Carl Tanner as Luigi sounded fine until the very last notes of the duet with Giorgetta, when his voice seemed to desert him: I wonder if he was in best health. Before that, he’d been strong, ardent vocally. Maybe his acting of this rather difficult role wasn’t the strongest part of the evening. Perhaps I missed some of the sheer lushness that you can get in their duet, but it still packed a punch. Lucio Gallo as Michele strikes me as the most controversial piece of casting. He looks good – the declining, lean and hungry man – but vocally he simply doesn’t have the menace and the power of the jealousy that the role needs. If this returns (and please let it), can we have Mr Lukic?

Suor Angelica is the star of the staging with Jones treading absolutely the right balance of toughness and sentimentality. It’s a staging that makes you angry. The setting in the catholic children’s hospital is brilliant and it’s perfectly moved. It hinges, however, on the performance of Ermonela Jaho as Angelica. She is even better this time around. Her singing of Senza mamma was soft, wonderfully controlled, moving.  The scene with the Principessa unleashed, you felt, all the pent up anger and frustration of the last seven years. It’s one of the great interpretations of our day and I do hope that Ms Jaho will be back soon in more Puccini.

Anna Larsson struck me as even more effective as the Principessa than she had been in 2011 – there is less writhing, much more iciness and every look, every note spoke of her disdain for dealing with Angelica at all. The two struck sparks and the whole performance – beautifully detailed nuns, understated but very moving ending, struck me as one of the most powerful at the ROH in some time.  It made the work seem like a masterpiece, which I think perhaps it is.

I like Jones’s very funny, beautifully observed and timed production of Gianni Schicchi. It’s a gift of an opera and Jones seizes the opportunities to characterise all the individual relatives to perfection and he’s helped by fabulous performances from Elena Zilio as Zita, Marie McLoughlin as La Ciesca, Gwynne Howell las Simone and Jeremy White as Betto di Signa. Zilio, in particular, is a star in this sort of role.  The costumes are perfect and I loved the chaos at the beginning – the child running his car against the wall, the little girls getting in the way.

We had new lovers: Paola Fanale, ardent, a nice youthful tenor and good actor for Rinuccio, voice maybe just a tad small for the house; and Susanna Hurrell doing a very nice job indeed as Lauretta – singing sweetly and with the strength to make O mio babbino caro the highlight it should be.

Gallo is back as Schicchi. I enjoy his alertness, his intelligence and his great way with the words. It’s an understated performance and, ideally, you need a larger, fatter voice and a more exuberant personality – but maybe that would unbalance the rest of what is a tight, ensemble.  He’s the most controversial part of the casting and, maybe, you don’t have to double Michele and Schicchi.

The smaller roles in all the other operas were as well done as you’d expect with Jeremy White, Carlo Bosi and Irina Mishura impressing in their multiple roles, David Junghoon Kim excellent as the ballad seller, Lauren Fagan and Luis Gomes seizing their moment as the two lovers in Tabarro.

Nicola Luisiotti conducted idiomatically and at one with the production.  It was one of those where what you saw onstage reflected what you heard in the pit.  I didn’t miss Pappano. Orchestra sounded excellent to me.

It’s great to see these pieces again. They make a long evening and, interestingly, quite a few people didn’t come back for Schicchi – presumably because the reviews had been less than kind about Gallo and because Ms Jaho was so shattering. They missed an essential part of the evening. For all their differences, these three operas make a perfect whole and an evening that is more than the sum of its parts. Whatever individual imperfections there may have been, this was a hugely satisfying evening and I’d urge you to get along if you can.