Three different stories that form a programme together. The idea of Il trittico is easy to describe, but the underlying thought is all the more complex. Around 1900, Giacomo Puccini was attracted by the idea of developing a triptych from three one-act operas and wanted them to be linked by a complex dramaturgical thread. Rather than the plots themselves, the decisive element was to be the dominant emotional colours. A drama of moods.
Puccini’s idea is closely linked to a technique which he was a master of. So-called »controscene« had already played an important role in earlier works – multi-layered scenic tableaux, like the start of the Quartier Latin scene in Bohème, where different emotions, which Puccini called colours (tinte) were effectively shown as brief highlights. The Trittico, as Puccini conceived it, would ex- pand this principle so that three short pieces, each with their own colour, would result in a finely matched whole. The search was on for a tragic work, a »sentimental« one and a comic piece, very much in the sense of the scene from Bohème, which Puccini specified in a letter as having these three emotional moods.
Puccini had such exact ideas about the character of the three moods that the search for the right material proved extremely difficult. Ultimately, he found the tragic first part that would become Il tabarro in Didier Gold’s drama La Houppelande. This was another instance when a visit to a play led to inspiration for one of Puccini’s successful operas – this was how he had found the sources for Tosca (by Victorien Sardou), Madama Butterfly and La fanciulla del West (both by David Belasco). Il tabarro is a dark marital drama, set in the world of the Seine skippers. The couple, Michele and Giorgetta, are divided by grief for their dead child, and Giorgetta’s affair with the labourer Luigi ends in tragedy.
Puccini composed the first part relatively quickly, but the search for the two tinte which he felt should follow the first took on almost epic dimensions. In the end, it took a full 18 years from the first idea to the New York premiere. Suor Angelica, the »sentimental« story, which Giovacchino Forzano wrote the libretto for, tells of the suffering of the protagonist, a nun who finds the memory of her son – the result of a »slip« which brought her to the convent – until she is deprived of this support. For the comical third part, Gianni Schicchi, Forzano drew on a brief episode from Dante’s Inferno. To get the inheritance of the wealthy Florentine Buoso Donati, his relatives persuade Gianni Schicchi to pose as the dying Buoso and appear to dictate a will in their favour.
Each of the pieces has its own fascinating musical originality. There is the relentless, flowing river motif in Il tabarro, interrupted by Puccini’s incomparable realisms, ships’ sirens, honking vehicles, little incidental scenes. The deceptive peace of the convent conversation in Suor Angelica, which is continued with incredible dramatic musical precision to the culmination (embodied in »Senza mamma«, one of the best-known and most moving arias in opera history).
The musical joke in Gianni Schicchi runs through its extensive manifestations, from wild hilarity to amusing chaos.Puccini was passionately concerned about the overall structure and effect of his concept. It is a marvellous challenge for a new production, since – like the tinte in the little controscene in Bohème – the three parts of Il trittico are placed in a greater context, indeed the greatest imaginable context: their tinte are the colours of human relationships. Irresistibly simple, and incredibly complex – the innermost core of Il trittico. A Human Comedy for the opera stage.