Il Trittico, ENO at the Coliseum

The best news is that ENO has returned Puccini s triptych of three one-act operas to the London stage, as Puccini intended, for the first time in over 50 years. True, the operas have been seen more recently than that but with often peculiar partners (Gianni Schicci last appeared here with Delius Fenimore and Gerda - both in shriekingly hideous productions), and really the three need to be viewed together as Puccini intended, as they link perfectly together.

The Cloak is about a husband s murderous revenge against his wife s lover; Sister Angelica about a nun who has had a baby prior to taking up orders, learns of his death and commits suicide; Gianni Schicci about a family s greed and opportunism.

Sister Angelica is the opera which has suffered most neglect in this country. I have to confess it is a bit syrupy, but imagine an audience reaction in 1918 to a nun who had had an illegitimate child and then committed suicide! Puccini was well ahead of his time, and it is good to see how his genius is at last being recognised. Anne Williams-King is heart-breaking in the title role, and her confrontation with Elizabeth Vaughan as her implacable Aunt was dramatically thrilling.

In The Cloak, it is reassuring to see Rosalind Plowright in better voice than her recent Tosca in this house. She and David Rendall as her lover are both Italianate in style and deliverance. Philip Joll blusters along in woolly tone, fuzzy diction and an approximation of the notes as her husband - ghastly.

In Gianni Schicci, the cast is strong, the team effort welcome, and in the title role, Andrew Shore delivers yet another perfectly sung, superbly acted comic role. Faultless.

But what to say of Patrick Mason s productions? His efforts only raised to greatness in Sister Angelica. The Cloak is set on a barge, but it is all so dimly lit the drama fails to ignite across the footlights. Schicci is too bright and there is too much playing to the gallery. Joe Vanek s designs are at best functional, at worst horribly twee. Shao-Chia Lu s conducting was ‘correct , no more.

A strongly cast set of operas, at times beautifully sung, and worth a visit as Trittico is so rarely done these days. It is just a shame that they take place in such workaday productions.

Keith McDonnell