First, all three, distinctive sets by Giacomo Andrico, costumes by Gianluca Fataschi and lighting by Cesare Accetta are nothing short of marvelous, each setting the mood of the piece as soon as the curtain rises.
For Il Tabarro we're plunged into dismal, watery world under the large arch of a Parisian bridge, the barge a depressing and effective playing area, where shadows loom everywhere. The colors and light effects are sensational.
For Suor Angelica, we're in an enormous vaulted room of shifting columns, with set pieces unobtrusively moved into place to change the settings throughout in a way I've not seen done before - even an enormous fountain glides into place for several spectacular effects in the first and final scenes. The miracle is beautifully staged, with a child Madonna leading Angelica's son toward his mother, the son racing to and falling onto and embracing his mother for a touching reunion of smiles before both expire, the little Madonna smiling down on them. Talk about lump in your throat moments!
Schicchi makes me wonder why any director would want to update it, the massive period set evoking the era, but the over-the-top costumes, elaborate wigs, ridiculous hats all like a renaissance painting come to life - save for Schicchi who first appears in a pinstriped suit.
Christina Pezzoli's direction in all three operas brings real theatre into the proceedings, all of the characters richly detailed, stripped (mostly) of old-fashioned cliches and rich with life.
Alberto Mastromarino shines both as Michele and Schicchi, even when his voice sometimes (rarely) threatens to break under pressure. For the most part he sings beautifully and he shows that even a corpulent singer/actor can learn to move and act with grace, style and be a physically thrilling performer. He is that and more - and his curtsey (still in Buoso's gown) at the end is charm itself. Dark, violently threatening as Michele, his Schicchi is fleet and light as a feather. I want to see more of this guy!
Amarilli Nizza pulls off the operatic equivalent of a hat trick nailing all three of the heroines. She is a wildly physical Giorgietta in her flapper get up, complete with garters, stockings and head band. She is both hope and sorrow personified as Angelica, and pulls off a shrewd, if slightly long in the tooth Lauretta, all winks and knowing nods. In one delicious bit of irony, "O mio babbino caro," is sung while daddy pulls her into his coat. It's little touches like this that Ms. Pezzoli injects throughout all three operas that give them a wonderful sense of theatricality. Nizza's voice is an exciting one, not always beautiful of sound, especially when pushing it in the mid range, but she has the most secure and thrilling top I've heard in a soprano in ANY of these roles in a very, very long time. Her high c at the end of the "Lodiam" sequence is thrilling and goes on forever.
Also in Schicchi, the movement from all of the singers is choreographed to the music in an almost comedic balletic fashion that brings it vividly to life. (Though I must say, I've rarely, if ever, seen this particular opera not done well).
The rest of the casts are all marvelous actors and (mostly) good singers, particularly Rubens Pelizzari as Luigi, who several times resembles the young, handsome Pavarotti. His murder at Michele's hands is terrifying, Michele plunging his head into the river, Luigi coming up gasping for air, soaking wet it's positively lugubrious!
The Orchestra della Fondazione Arturo Toscanini and the Coro Lirico Amadeus led by Julian Reynolds is in top form and the entire thing flew by so beautifully and quickly I couldn't believe 3+ hours had come and gone.
I (obviously) can't say enough good things about this one!