Major Operas | Il trittico by Giacomo Puccini | Turn of the Century

The Triptych

In constructing an operatic triple-bill, Puccini followed no precedent. He had nursed the idea for some time, to the despair of Giulio Ricordi, who felt it would be a box-office disaster. With the publisher’s death in 1912, Puccini soon felt able to work on the project.

His librettist for La rondine, Giuseppe Adami, provided Puccini with the text for the first one-acter, Il tabarro. As usual, though, Puccini did not make life easy and Adami did not stay the course.

It was Giovacchino Forzano, a medicine and law graduate who had begun work as a baritone, who brought the remaining two pieces to fruition. It became clear that some sort of unifying theme would be needed and Forzano found the thread in the subject of death. Il tabarro, which begins the set, concerns a disintegrating love affair and ends with a tragic, unintended death. In Suor Angelica we follow the grief of the nun Angelica who, on hearing that her child has died, takes her own life. Finally, in Gianni Schicchi, we are treated to a greedy family that cannot wait to be shot of a wealthy relative.

From the outset, Puccini had viewed Il trittico as a group of contrasts. The idea of tragedy in Il tabarro and comedy in Gianni Schicchi had quickly taken shape, but the spiritual tone of Suor Angelica was slower to arrive. The triple-bill was premiered in December 1918 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was not received to any great acclaim – generally it was felt to be too long and to be weakened by Suor Angelica. This second criticism particularly stung Puccini, who felt the middle opera to be the strongest. Gianni Schicchi, with its slick, dark comedy, quickly became a favourite and entered the repertoire as a genuine equal to Verdi’s Falstaff. The first of the sequence, Il tabarro, was slower to gain widespread appeal. In dealing with characters from the Parisian slums, the work is very much a part of the veristic tradition and was compared (not always favourably) with Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci. Suor Angelica was quickly excised from Il trittico and, although the outer two works are often performed, the triple-bill is rarely heard in its entirety.

Composed: 1913–18
Premiered: 1918, Metropolitan Opera, New York
Libretto by Giuseppe Adami after Didier Gold’s play La houppelande

Il tabarro (‘The Cloak’)

Michele, the owner of a barge on the Seine, is watching the sunset. His wife Giorgetta, half his age, suggests that the stevedores deserve a drink. He agrees, but is disappointed when she does not return his affection. Luigi, Il Tinca (‘tench’) and Il Talpa (‘mole’) come onboard. Giorgetta passes out the glasses. Luigi calls over a passing organ-grinder and they dance until Michele appears and signals the stevedores to go below. Giorgetta asks whether they will be leaving soon and whether Luigi will be going with them. While...

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