The Arcola Tent in Dalston makes a fitting venue for Puccini’s dark masterpiece. Where other circus tents are white, the black void of the Arcola Tent is immediately symbolic of the cloak itself. When this is working in conjunction with the very close proximity of the singers and the action, the effect is electric.
At the start Michele – an unusually young but powerful Simon Lobelson – sits with his dead pipe in one hand and a small toy in the other. As the work progresses it becomes increasingly clear that he is as affected by the death of the child quite as much as his wife. It makes the dénouement all the more tragic as the protagonists are swept away by emotions beyond their control. Giorgetta’s heartfelt cry at the end is as much for the loss of her child as it is for the loss of her lover.
While it would always be preferable to have Puccini’s orchestration, the atmospheric impact of the melodic lines is such that the darkness and dampness of the riverside impinges throughout. Philip Voldman was impressively sensitive at the piano and the balance with the singers was never problematic.
The small cast covered all of the parts, making a virtue of a necessity. When the pair of lovers appear, they are Giorgetta and Luigi as a dream image in Michele’s mind, though we have already seen the all too tangible outcome of their passion. Voices throughout were large and expansive. Joana Seara and Leonel Pinheiro easily met the emotional demands of the lovers, and his rough bulk was convincing as an itinerant stevedore. Simon Lobelson has the authority for Michele with an unexpected tenderness.
Ciaran O’Leary in the tiny part of Tinca, showed a fine tenor with great promise.
Aylin Bozok’s production allowed the action to move with sincerity and simplicity, the one very effective prop being the sudden appearance of a vast cloak which covered the stage as well as Michele and his wife. Surtitles were in use and they swung in the wind almost as if the tent were a barge itself- an unexpected bonus. BH
Photo ©Desmond Chewyn
The festival continues until 8 September. www.arcolatheatre.com