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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Gianni Schicchi [59:00]
Gianni Schicchi – Placido Domingo
Lauretta – Andriana Chuchman
Zita – Meredith Arwady
Rinuccio – Arturo Chacón-Cruz
Gherardo – Greg Fedderly
Nella – Stacey Tappan
Simone – Craig Colclough
Betto di Signa – Philip Cokorinos
Marco – Liam Bonner
La Ciesca – Peabody Southwell
Maestro Spinelloccio – E.Scott Levin
Ser Amantio di Nicolao – Kihun Yoon
Gherardino – Isiah Morgan
Pinellino – Daniel Armstrong
Guccio – Gabriel Vamvulescu
Buoso Donati – Momo Casablanca
LA Opera Orchestra/Grant Gershon
Production by Woody Allen
rec. September and October 2015, LA Opera
SONY CLASSICAL DVD 88985 315089 [59 mins]

Woody Allen with his first – and so far only – opera production; the great Placido Domingo in a rare comedy role; immeasurably rich Los Angeles Opera; what could possibly go wrong? Well quite a lot in fact, principally because comedy is such a delicately balanced art, and in the end can’t really be taught to actors who don’t have the comic instinct. Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, the finale of his great Trittico – a rare triple bill – is a heaven-sent gift to a team who really understand the divine business of comedy. However, it can, well not exactly fall flat, but certainly disappoint bitterly if it doesn’t quite come off – as is the case here.

It is difficult to assess what Allen’s contribution has been. I admire him so much, both in his early manifestation as comedian, and subsequently as a director, that I confess I expected something really special. But his only truly personal touches come at the beginning and the end. At curtain up we get some weak jokes in the cast listings – ‘Prosciutto e Melone Productions, present Tonio Salmonella, Oriana Felattio ‘etc. Allen may be a ‘comic genius’, but this is just weak schoolboy humour.

The opera then gets underway, with a lively if unsubtle contribution from the LA Opera Orchestra under Grant Gershon. Anyone who has seen a good production of this opera knows how joyfully hilarious it can be. Less than an hour in duration, not a second wasted, and thick with comic opportunities. There’s not much evidence of that here; Domingo brings distinction to his part, presenting the central character as a slick Mafiosi type, complete with Brylcreemed hair and double-breasted pinstripe. However, Domingo is a tenor and simply makes the wrong sort of noise for this character. I longed for the natural buffo of a Corbelli (Opus Arte) or even Juan Pons (Warner Music). Domingo is a great star, of course – he even gets a round of applause when he first appears, from an audience clearly raised on American sitcoms - but there is an uncomfortable lack of conviction about him as he plays it comparatively straight, causing most of the rest of the cast to overact appallingly. I failed to see Woody Allen’s hand in any of this, and, because of the poor standard of the rest of the show, ‘O mio babino caro’ shone out even more than it usually does, beautifully sung by Andriana Chuchman. Unfortunately, her Rinuccio, Arturo Chacón-Cruz, has a thin, edgy voice, and is unable to do justice to his big aria, ‘Firenze è come un albero fiorito’.
As the ‘lady of the house’, Zita, Meredith Arwady is frankly terrifying, and not in a particularly funny way. That leads to the second of Allen’s ‘personal’ touches; after the end of the opera, with Gianni lingering on-stage, Zita re-appears and viciously stabs him in the chest. I’m sure it’s symbolic, but …?

At a grand total of 59 minutes, and with no ‘extras’ of any kind, this is pretty poor value. I unhesitatingly recommend the Opus Arte version from Glyndebourne. Brilliantly directed from the pit by Vladimir Jurowski, it features memorable performances by Felicity Palmer as Zita and Sally Matthews as Lauretta, in addition to Alessandro Corbelli’s masterly portrayal of the central character. The Blu-ray version includes Rachmaninov’s ‘The Miserly Knight’ for good measure.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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