Aleko/Gianni Schicchi – Double Bryn Terfel


The late Bamber Gascoigne left this gorgeous house and grounds to the West Horsley Place Trust, now the home of Grange Park Opera. Founded in 1998 by Wasfi Kani, CBE, she built the 700-seat opera house in 11 months – the fastest construction of an opera house in history.


Rachmaninoff composed Aleko as a 19-year-old student, for his friend, bass Feodor Chaliapin. Based on Pushkin’s poem ‘the gypsies’, this was also the source material for Mérimée’s Carmen. Aleko could have been paired with Rachmaninoff’s one-act, Francesca da Rimini. However, Schicchi is a better choice for Double Bryn. Two outsiders, one ends badly, the other, well.

Zemfira, bored with husband Aleko, wants to abandon him and her baby just as her mother did with her.  Aleko broods on the past in the best music in the opera – the overwhelmingly powerful cavatina – Весь табор спит (the tribe is asleep). This is often sung in competition; it is great to hear in context. (It is a tragedy that Rachmaninoff abandoned opera composition. His songs prove he composes wonderfully for the voice.) Aleko catches Zemfira with her lover. She cruelly taunts him. He kills them both á la Carmen and Pagliacci. Aleko is banished forever.

The music is reminiscent of Rimsky/Borodin/Tchaikovsky, with ravishing melodies and dances. The only drawback for a one-act one-hour opera, is that barely have the principals established their characters, there are 20 minutes of dance, before the vocal narrative picks up again.

The set should be a gypsy encampment, but is a grungy graffiti-scrawled squat. The static action provides the oppressive atmosphere from which Zemfira is desperate to escape.

The chorus, particularly the mezzos are excellent.

Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel has a huge voice, obvious here than in the larger ROH. He dominates the stage with fine singing and characterisation of tormented Aleko. Aleko’s love story, – encapsulated in the cavatina Как, нежно приклонясь ко мне (how tenderly leaning against me). The way he sings Земфира, как она любила (how she loved me) is hauntingly beautiful through to the final phrase – Моя Земфира охладела (my Zemfira’s forgotten me). The punch is in the охладела (ochladyela) – building in intensity and lasting as long as possible, enabling the singer to compress the love story from beginning to end, happiness, passion, betrayal, pain, bitterness and anger all on one note which modulates with the orchestration. The effect is devastating. Terfel’s Russian Ы vowel and soft sign Ь need attention, though few would notice.

Irish soprano, Ailish Tynan is a feisty Zemfira, adding warmth as she dies to an otherwise unsympathetic character.

Portuguese tenor, Luis Gomes was a Jette Parker artist, sang in Cardiff in 2019 and is an unexpected star of the show. His radiant voice shines as Zemfira’s disc-jockey paramour.

Jamaican bass Robert Winslade Anderson sings strongly and British mezzo Sara Fulgoni is impressive for both operas.


The story, from Dante’s Inferno was personal. Dante was married into the Florentine Donati family (old money) who resented increasingly influential new money (peasant Schicchi). Buoso Donati and Gianni Schicchi really existed. Schicchi’s falsification of Donati’s will by impersonating him is mentioned in his Commedia, and verified by other sources.

The squat has an interval makeover, becoming a chic expensive apartment overlooking Florence, demonstrating Buoso’s wealth.

Spoiler alert! For once ‘povero Buoso’ is dying, but not dead. His old-money relatives arrive in designer suits to give him a surprise party. The shock kills him. The family lament, until they find Buoso has left the monks. Young Rinuccio loves Lauretta, Schicchi’s daughter. Schicchi, vulgar peasant class in the form of Terfel, arrives chewing gum in red leathers and biker’s helmet. He swaggers hilariously around the stage as if he owns the place (which he will). The Donatis need his help despite their contempt. Schicchi despises them, refuses and leaves as Lauretta begs him to help – ‘o mio babbino caro’. Schicchi agrees. Pretending to be Buoso with a shaky voice, he gives the relatives what they want. The most valuable assets, the mule (in reality a valuable horse), the house and the mills, he gifts himself.  Lauretta can marry Rinuccio.

Terfel completely dominates – his comic timing is brilliant, his Italian excellent, and his singing is wonderful. Schicchi is funnier than usual, due to Bryn’s exceptional magnetism. Large-as-life, in red leathers, you cannot take your eyes off him.

Luis Gomes as Rinuccio again impresses with his soaring romantic tenor voice.

Director Stephen Medcalf has created a brilliant Double-Bryn.

Go to hear Aleko. Go for one of our best British opera stars, Sir Bryn in terrific form. Not to be missed.

Grange Park Opera


Tragedy  in one Act

Music by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Libretto Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko from The Gypsies, a narrative poem by Alexander Pushkin

Conducted by Gianluca Marciano

Directed by Stephen Medcalf

Photo Credit Marc Borelli

Cast includes Bryn Terfel, Ailish Tynan, Luis Gomes, Robert Winslade Anderson, Sara Fulgoni.


Opera buffo in one Act.

Music by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)

Libretto Giovacchino Forzano based on an episode of Dante’s La Divina Commedia Canto XXX

Conducted by Gianluca Marciano

Directed by Stephen Medcalf

Photo Credit Marco Borelli

Cast includes Bryn Terfel, Pasquale Orchard, Tim Bagley, Matthew Brook, Michel de Souza, Olivia Ray, Sara Fulgoni, Luis Gomes, Jeff Lloyd Roberts, Ailish Tynan

Running time 2 hours 15 minutes with interval

Aleko/Gianni Schicchi – Double Bryn Terfel