In the midst of Tosca month “Trove Thursday” assembles from the 60s to the 80s an Il Trittico—which turns 100 this year—in which each opera features an important Italian star: Tito Gobbi seethes in Il Tabarro; Katia Ricciarelli (whose 72nd birthday may or may not be today—reports differ) suffers as Suor Angelica; and Rolando Panerai schemes as Lucia Popp’s daddy in Gianni Schicchi. 

After premiering at the Met to mixed notices in 1918, Trittico quickly began to fall apart as a unit; it hadn’t been performed there together in more than fifty years when the Met revived it in 1976. Schicchi immediately became a popular favorite and was often paired with other operas, most often with Salome!

Apparently the acclaimed Jack O’Brien production returns this fall and unfortunately Placido Domingo has mentioned in recent interviews that he will be singing the title role in Schicchi. But I suspect the rumored triple-play of all the heroines being sung by Kristine Opolais will not happen.

Today’s Covent Garden Tabarro is the only live document of Gobbi’s Michele, a role he recorded along with Schicchi a decade earlier for EMI. He returned to the latter nearly twenty years later for the Lorin Maazel-led Trittico on CBS but Ingvar Wixell was instead its Michele. 1965 was a banner Puccini-year for Gobbi: just a few weeks before this Tabarro he sang Scarpia opposite Maria Callas at her celebrated return to the Met and he also appeared in the part when Marie Collier, his Giorgetta today, took over for Callas when she cancelled most of her Toscas at Covent Garden.

Although she had already sung at La Scala in the Verdi Requiem, Ricciarelli made her opera there as Suor Angelica when she was 27. This less-than-optimal in-house recording documents that first performance when Puccini’s opera was paired with La Peri, a ballet starring La Scala’s prima ballerina Carla Fracci. Ricciarelli had recorded Suor Angelica the year before opposite Fiorenza Cossotto but this Scala run offered perhaps her only stage appearances in the role. Although she unwisely recorded both Turandot and Tosca (she did sing the latter a few times in the early 80s), her Puccini roles were Mimi and Liù.

Still with us at age 93, Panerai never sang at the Met nor anywhere in New York as far as I can discern. His US operatic appearances otherwise were few: he performed three roles with the San Francisco Opera in 1958 but didn’t return for almost 40 years when he debuted at Lyric Opera of Chicago as Schicchi in 1996 at age 72, trumping even his compatriot Giuseppe Taddei’s Met debut a decade earlier as Falstaff when he was a youthful 69.

Remarkably Panerai continued to sing Schicchi until 2011 when he was 87! Though perhaps less generally well known than Gobbi or Ricciarelli, he is of course well remembered for his many important recordings including a number with Callas, Renata Scotto’s first Butterfly, Beverly Sills’s Traviata and one of my favorites, an absolutely charming version of Paisiello’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia with Graziella Sciutti and Renato Capecchi.

He too recorded Gianni Schicchi several years after this Munich performance opposite another unlikely Lauretta, Helen Donath. Today’s Schicchi also offers the fascinating opportunity to hear Astrid Varnay as Zita over 40 years after her Met debut, and its La Ciesca bears one of my favorite opera names: Gudrun Wewezow!

Puccini: Il tabarro
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
23 April 1965

Giorgetta — Marie Collier
Frugola — Elizabeth Bainbridge
Luigi — Charles Craig
Michele — Tito Gobbi
Tinca — John Lanigan
Talpa — Eric Garrett

Conductor – John Pritchard

Puccini: Suor Angelica
Teatro alla Scala
2 April 1973
In-house recording

Suor Angelica — Katia Ricciarelli
La zia principessa — Franca Mattiucci

Conductor — Bruno Bartoletti

Puccini: Gianni Schicchi
Bavarian State Opera, Munich
13 January 1983
In-house recording

Lauretta – Lucia Popp
Zita – Astrid Varnay
Nella – Marianne Seibel
La Ciesca – Gudrun Wewezow
Gianni Schicchi – Rolando Panerai
Rinuccio – Peter Kelen
Gherardo – Friedrich Lenz
Betto – Gerhard Auer
Simone – Kieth Engen
Marco – John Janssen
Spinelloccio – Hans Wilbrink
Amantio – Karl Helm
Pinellino – Hermann Sapell
Guccio – Nikolaus Hillebrand

Conductor – Wolfgang Sawallisch

Each of the Trittico operas can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on its audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

All “Trove Thursday” podcasts since the series began in September 2015 remain available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader.