Il trittico is largely a triumph at the Salzburg Festival

AustriaAustria Salzburg Festival [2]: Puccini – Il trittico: Soloists, Dancers, Salzburg Festival and Theatre Children’s Choir (chorus director: Wolfgang Götz), Concert Association of the Vienna State Opera Chorus (chorus director: Jörn Hinnerk Andresen), Angelika-Prokopp-Summer Academy of the Vienna Philharmonic (stage music), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Franz Welser-Möst (conductor). Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, 21.8.2022. (MB)

Gianni Schicchi: Alexey Neklyudov (Rinuccio), Manel Esteve Madrid (Betto di Signa), Caterina Piva (La Ciesca), Iurii Samoilov (Marco), Enkelejda Shkosa (Zita), Lavinia Bini (Nella), Scott Wilde (Simone) © SF/Monika Rittershaus

In many ways, this new production of Puccini’s triptych of one-act operas marked a triumph for the Salzburg Festival. One serious unforced error detracted, yet could only detract so far; likewise a few other cavils. Singing and orchestral playing were excellent throughout on the evening I attended, the last in the run. If Christof Loy’s production offered nothing particular in the way of insight, let alone re-evaluation, it presented the stories clearly and with élan, aided by good design work. Everything came together well, at an undeniably ‘Salzburg’ level.

Loy’s major miscalculation was to mess around with the ordering, so as to present the operas in the order Gianni Schicchi, Il tabarro, and Suor Angelica. The self-justification given in the programme made things worse, speaking of Suor Angelica having given the ‘impression’ of ‘such an extreme impact … that Gianni Schicchi came across as relatively trivial’. Not in my experience, nor in that of anyone I have spoken to. Nor has Il tabarro suffered from a lack of contemporary relevance, as Loy bizarrely suggests. (Quite why moving it to second place would help here remains unclear too.) Apparently, because this is a Festival, ‘everyone [is] in good spirits to be here,’ it makes better sense to open ‘with the seemingly life-affirming atmosphere of Gianni Schicchi’. Enough! There is good reason for placing the comedy last. Suor Angelica, meanwhile, suffers from being placed third, in that not only does it offer less a climax than a sense of tiring, even tailing away; but, perhaps worse, its own genuine musical as well as dramatic interest pales when heard after Schicchi. If you wanted to lend credence to claims of the saccharine, you could do a lot worse than adopt this reordering. Loy says that Franz Welser-Möst and he were in agreement on the matter; Welser-Möst really should have known better. None of this is fatal; after all, the operas are often (probably more often) played alone with entirely different companion pieces. But there is little gain here, and not inconsiderable loss.

Loy’s reputation in certain quarters remains something of a mystery to me. There is, as there certainly was here, a genuine craftsmanship at work. That I could admire — and did greatly. Movement and placing of objects on stage, the identity of each character (most of them, anyway), and much else had clearly been considered; one was left with little doubt that what one saw was what one was supposed to have seen. This is no more than speculation on my part, but I can imagine singers liking to work with him: certainly no bad thing. But beyond a certain generic stylishness, which is presumably in large part the work of his designers, I struggled to find any particular conceptual thinking at work, whether in each individual opera or as something to connect them. All three were vaguely modernised, I suppose, but unless one considers ‘modern dress’ to be a concept in itself, there was nothing to trouble conservative viewers. On the other hand, there was no banal intervention as in, say, Loy’s Tristan und Isolde (Covent Garden) or Die Frau ohne Schatten (Salzburg, in which he essentially ignored the work altogether). So, horses of no breed would have been scared away; perhaps that in itself was the idea.

Il tabarro: Asmik Grigorian (Giorgetta) and Roman Burdenko (Michele) © SF/Monika Rittershaus

The Vienna Philharmonic was on tremendous form, clearly relishing the opportunity to play all three operas in something approaching ideal conditions (certainly by way of comparison to the rehearsal schedule, or lack of it, in Vienna). Welser-Möst’s guiding spirit was heard to best effect in the first two operas, the scintillating scherzo of Gianni Schicchi razor-sharp, yet with plenty of tenderness too, the ominous ostinato of the Seine in Il tabarro duly overwhelming. (It took a few hours to get the latter out of my head, following the performance.) Light and shade were as meticulously planned and projected as any stage lighting, and there could be no doubting Welser-Möst’s knowledge and understanding of the scores. I missed a sense of something darker in Suor Angelica, but that was doubtless in considerable part a matter both of the piece itself and Loy’s decision to move it. There might nonetheless have been greater bite in its often intriguing harmonies and also a greater range of colour. A tendency to greyness such as I have often heard in Welser-Möst’s Strauss was not entirely avoided here.

Asmik Grigorian’s heroic service as heroine (of sorts) in all three proved both heartfelt and flawless. She did not tire, far from it, and gave considered, distinct performances of each of her roles. I do not think appreciation of her Sister Angelica was helped by its placing, giving the impression of everything leading up to a ‘big moment’, but I have probably said enough about that now. Her chemistry with Joshua Guerrero as Luigi and, indeed, negatively with Roman Burdenko as Michele was, to my mind, just as impressive, both of those artists turning in thoughtful as well as viscerally immediate performances. So too, unsurprisingly, did Karita Mattila as La Zia Principessa. From the moment she stepped on stage, one knew this was going to be something special, and it certainly was. Equal attention to words, music, and gesture informed a star turn that collegially collaborated with, in no sense upstaging, Grigorian. Much the same might be said, albeit (properly) with less hauteur, of Hanna Schwarz’s Abbess. Grigorian’s Rinuccio, Alexey Neklyudov, proved youthful, ardent, and similarly intelligent: a fine companion. Every portrayal in Gianni Schicchi was indeed, of similar quality, whether solo or ensemble, from Misha Kiria’s wily lawyer down (should that be the right direction). Enkelejda Shkosa’s turn as Zita here was followed by a splendidly animated La Frugola, hinting at hidden depths of sadness, in Il tabarro. This was a Trittico that almost offered the definition of casting from depth. For fine singing, complemented by excellent stage gifts, Personenregie, and orchestral playing, this will surely prove difficult to beat.

Mark Berry


Director – Christof Loy
Set designs – Étienne Pluss
Costumes – Barbara Drosihn
Lighting – Fabrice Kebour
Dramaturgy – Yvonne Gebauer


Gianni Schicchi
Gianni Schicchi – Misha Kiria
Lauretta – Asmik Grigorian
Zita – Enkelejda Shkosa
Rinuccio – Alexey Neklyudov
Gherardo – Dean Power
Nella – Lavinia Bini
Gherardino – Daniel Fussek
Betto di Signa – Manel Esteve Madrid
Simone – Scott Wilde
Marco – Iurii Samoilov
La Ciesca – Caterina Piva
Maestro Spinelloccio – Matteo Peirone
Ser Amantio di Noclao – Mikołaj Trąbka
Pinellino – Aleksei Kulagin
Guccio – Liam James Karai
Buoso Donati – Leopold Böhm

Il tabarro
Michele – Roman Burdenko
Giorgetta – Asmik Grigorian
Luigi – Joshua Guerrero
Il Tinca – Andrea Giovannini
Il Talpa – Scott Wilde
La Frugola – Enkelejda Shkosa
Song seller – Dean Power
Lovers – Dean Power, Martina Russomanno
Midinettes – Dijana Kos, Irena Krsteska, Wilma Maller, Irina Peroš, Katarína Porubanová, Anna Yasiutina
Dancers – Clara Cozzolino, Mário Jorge Moisés da Silva Branco, Joni Österlund, Anna Possarnig, Guillaume Rabain, Nicolas Franciscus, Giulia Tornarolli

Suor Angelica
Sister Angelica – Asmik Grigorian
La Zia Principessa – Karita Mattila
Abbess – Hanna Schwarz
Sister Zelatrice – Enkelejda Shkosa
Mistress of the Novices – Vaterina Piva
Sister Genovieffa – Giulia Semenzato
Sister Osmina – Martina Russo manno
Sister Dolcina – Daryl Freedman
Nursing Sister – Juliette Mars
Alms Sisters – Lavinia Bini, Alma Neuhaus
Novice – Amira Elmadfa
Lay Sisters – Svenja Kallweit, Anna Yasiutina
Son – Jonathan Ehrenreich
Choral soloists – Dijana Kos, Mari Nakayama, Irina Peroš

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