Opera Scotland

Il Trittico in Scotland

Posted 15 Jan 2023

Puccini's Trittico has so far only received a single complete professional performance in Scotland.  This was at the Glasgow King's on 24 April 1957.  The Theatre Royal was no longer available, having been taken over by STV as its main studio for the next twenty years or so. This was the first visit to Scotland by Sadler's Wells Opera since the war, and in addition to Glasgow they also visited Aberdeen and Dundee, though the triple bill was not seen north of the central belt.

This occasion was also the first performance in Scotland of the middle piece, Suor Angelica, widely considered, until then, by people who had generally not seen it, as a work of over-sweet sentimentality.  At this performance the title role was taken by the excellent Australian soprano Elizabeth Fretwell, a star of Scottish Opera's early seasons. The conductor was a Scot, Marcus Dods, remembered for conducting many West End musicals (including Bart's Oliver!) and film scores (Bennett's Murder on the Orient Express).

Il Tabarro was conducted by South African Leo Quayle with Victoria Elliott, Ronald Dowd and John Probyn in the leading roles.

The conductor of Gianni Schicchi was another Scot, Alexander Gibson, at that time the musical director at Sadler's Wells.  The cast included three Scottish singers who would be important to the opening years of Scottish Opera - David Ward (Simone), William McAlpine (Rinuccio) and Harold Blackburn (Betto).  Two more singers who would work often with the company were Peter Glossop (Marco) and Judith Pierce (Ciesca). A New Zealander (Denis Dowling) took the title role, with an Australian, Patricia Howard, as Lauretta.

There have been occasions when two of the works have been paired, usually Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi.  That was first done on 6 November 1944 (at Glasgow Theatre Royal) when Il tabarro received its Scottish premiere.  The Sadler's Wells cast included Victoria Sladen (Giorgetta).  The company's leading mezzo, Edith Coates, sang two character roles, Frugola and Zita, with Owen Brannigan as Simone.  The two conductors were Lawrance Collingwood and Reginald Goodall - the latter one day to be a famous Wagnerian.

The most recent appearance of this coupling was at the 2011 Perth Festival performed by English Touring Opera, conducted by Michael Rosewell.  Singers involved included Simon Thorpe (Michele), Julie Unwin (Giorgetta), Richard Mosley-Evans (Schicchi) and Paula Sides (Lauretta). Clarissa Meek, once a regular chorister with Scottish Opera, doubled Frugola and Zita.

In 2016 at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Opera North gave Il tabarro with Giselle Allen (Giorgetta) and David Butt Philip (Luigi), unusually following it with Suor Angelica when Anne Sophie Duprels sang Angelica and Patricia Bardon the Princess.

Gianni Schicchi reached Scotland far more quickly that its companions. Its first appearance at Glasgow Theatre Royal was on 7 November 1923, in a performance by the British National Opera Company (a forerunner of today's Royal Opera that toured through the 1920s).  Schicchi appeared every season through to 1927, with different companion pieces that included serious works (Cavalleria Rusticana or Pagliacci) and comic (Holst's At the Boar's Head).  The casts invariably included important singers needed for longer parts in the other operas in the company's repertoire. For instance the Welsh tenor Parry Jones would sing Radamès or Tannhäuser one night and Gherardo the next.

The first cast, conducted by Percy Pitt, included Herbert Langley (Schicchi), Maggie Teyte (Lauretta), Tudor Davies (Rinuccio), William Anderson (Simone) and Edith Clegg (Zita).  Later alternates included conductors Malcolm Sargent and Aylmer Buesst, with William Michael (Schicchi), Marjorie Parry (Lauretta), Heddle Nash (Rinuccio), and Constance Willis (Zita).

Until quite recently the Edinburgh Festival neglected Puccini, taking over twenty years to get round to him.  That breakthrough came in 1969 when the guest company from Florence brought an excellent production of Gianni Schicchi. The director and star was the great Italian baritone Tito Gobbi.  The company also featured several veterans familiar from recordings - Plinio Clabassi (Simone), Flora Rafanelli (Zita), Anna di Stasio (Ciesca), Giorgio Giorgetti (Marco). Ugo Benelli and Maddalena Bonifaccio were at the start of their international careers.

Gianni Schicchi has long been a popular repertoire work for student bodies to tackle, including the RSAMD/RCS in Glasgow.  The small-scale professional company Opera Bohemia has toured it successfully. In recent years all three works have featured in the repertoire of Scotland's enthusiastic amateur companies.

The RSAMD mounted a full staging of Il trittico in 1975, giving four performances at Glasgow's Athenaeum Theatre.  It was directed by John Hauxwell and conducted by Kenneth Barritt.  The cast included several students who went on to have excellent professional careers, including with Scottish Opera.  Among these were Isobel Buchanan (Giorgetta), Harry Nicoll (Tinca), Linda Finnie (La Frugola), Janice Cairns (Angelica), Janis Kelly (Lauretta) and Alan Oke (Simone). Others became regular chorus members at Scottish Opera - Tom Irvine (Schicchi) and Anne Hetherington (Zita).  Scottish Opera's current Head of Music  took part in preparing these performances. 


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