Il Trittico is a rare treat in opera houses these days. Not only do the technical and financial demands of staging this triple bill pose a big obstacle - somehow it wouldn't work in a single set - but it is also fiendishly hard to cast. Tempting as it is to cast the same singers across all three operas, the range of parts on offer here actually require very different voices. For "Il Tabarro", a Tosca, a Cavaradossi and a Scarpia fit the bill nicely; a Mimi or Butterfly and a trus dramatic contralto are needed for "Suor Angelica" -and in the last piece, a true Buffo baritone surrounded by a cast of younger, fresher singers are best able to give the comedy the requisite lightness of touch.
Apart from Alagna and Gheorghiu, this recording does not necessarily go for big names. Pappano has obviously chosen his cast with the utmost care, however, with some really powerful results. For me, it is Il Tabarro that works best - a fabulous (and parlously underrated) piece, it benefits from the power and commitment of the singers here. Guelfi plays the brooding Michele with a convincing snarl and frigtening aggression towards the denouement; Neil Shicoff's visceral, Italianate sound carves out Luigi's desperation admirably. Maria Guleghina's cavernous soprano captures much of the subtlety and seductiveness of Giorgietta and unleashes one of the most glorious, blood-curdling screams I have heard at the end of the opera. Somehow, all of Puccini's genius seems to be squeezed into this disc and, in under an hour, it's an overwhelming ride.
For "Angelica", the reflectiveness and peace of the start turn convincingly to heartbreak and redemption at the end with a spaciously recorded, well paced performance. Cristina Gallardo-Domas sounds very well in the title role and none of the uncertainty of pitch she can display in the theatre is evident here. She makes something very special of the part with her tender, musical singing (far superior to Sutherland's, also recently released) and evinces much sympathy. Bernadette Manca de Nissa sings beautifully and powerfully without effacing memories of Christa Ludwig. Felicity Palmer makes much of little as the Abbess, and Dorothea Roschmann - a very classy soprano indeed - is a delightful Genovieffa. Refreshingly free of syrupy sentiment, the recording is a great success.
Perhaps Schicchi - the farce at the end of the enening - works least well here, though it is probably the hardest of the three to bring off. Pappano is again superb and the cast is excellent, but Jose Van Dam is a touch weak as Schicchi; somehow he lacks the edge and bite an Italian singer might bring. That said, his inclination towards restraint rather than overacting does pay off. Alagna is a healthy, lusty Rinuccio, but Gheorghiu's Lauretta steals the show, singing her aria and everything else with meltingly beautiful tone and exemplary style. Of the supporting cast, Felicity Palmer's Zita stands out for her pungent, characterful portrayl.
A really serious and succsesful enterprise, therefore - and I must confess one of the most enjoyable operatic releases I have encountered recently. Excellently packaged and great value for money, I recommend this set very highly.