La vida breve and Gianni Schicchi as a double bill (conducted by Martin Pickard, Opera North)
Opera North’s double bill of La vida breve and Gianni Schicchi could not be farther apart. de Falla compresses the darkness of Tristan with great brutality in deed and music. Yet both have a comedy-of-manners edge to them. The set wasn’t lazily adapted, and cast did not have that much overlap. These were two productions back to back.
Despite being two short pieces, neither lacked sufficient drama. La vida had rape, masturbation, and self-harm and suicide. In 60 minutes. Edgy? Audiences in 1913 must have gone berserk. Anne Sophie Duprels did it all a with the most astonishing range. Schicchi saw murder, fraud, but in old-fashioned style, a very happy ending, the sort of justice which fits with the moral economy of a crowd.
Wonderful acting throughout de Lang, with a waxen pallor had a woodenness and comic effect which made his Singer superb. Grandmother was good too, played by Elizabeth Sikora, whose Giovanna was part of a disappointing Rigoletto at the ROH in the autumn.
Schicchi on the other hand is a pretty light-hearted comedy with a stunning aria. There’s an Anna-Nicole sort of darkness, and an Ortonesque humour (think Entertaining Mr Sloane). Rather more demure here than as a niece in Grimes (the earth-shattering one at Jac van Steen’s baton in 2013), Lauretta was sung by Jennifer France. This is a one-hit wonder, Pucinni’s only comic opera has one aria in it which must have broken hearts over the years: O mio babbino caro. France combined power, skill and tenderness
This final performance was conducted by Martin Pickard rather than Jac van Steen, the only one he was conducting; it showed. ON has a fine orchestra, and they clearly knew what they were doing. But just occasionally, especially in La vida breve it made more noise than the excellent cast could take, and drowned them out.
A theme in keeping with the Flute last week is that Christopher Purves was stunning. I can’t wait for his Saul in the summer now.
Overall: these didn’t feel bolted together bracketed in a stylish, thoughtful fashion. The Schicchi would be worth seeing every year, and the de Falla was disturbing and powerful.
LA VIDA BREVE CAST
Salud Anne Sophie Duprels
La abuela Elizabeth Sikora
Carmela Beth Mackay
Paco Jesús Álvarez
Manuel Gavan Ring
Uncle Salvador Brian Bannatyne-Scott
Singer Quirijn de Lang
Off stage voice Daniel Norman
GIANNI SCHICCHI CAST
Gianni Schicchi Christopher Purves
Lauretta Jennifer France
Rinuccio Jesús Álvarez
Nella Victoria Sharp
La Ciesca Claire Pascoe
Zita Elizabeth Sikora
Gherardo Daniel Norman
Marco Peter Savidge
Ser Amantio di Nicolao Jeremy Peaker
Betto di Signa Dean Robinson
Simone Brian Bannatyne-Scott
Dante / Buoso Donati Tim Claydon
Conductor Jac van Steen
Conductor Martin Pickard (24 Mar)
Director Christopher Alden
Set Designer Johan Engels (La vida breve)
Costume Designer Sue Willmington (La vida breve)
Set Designer Charles Edwards (Gianni Schicchi)
Costume Designer Doey Luthi (Gianni Schicchi)
Lighting Designer Adam Silverman
Movement Director Tim Claydon