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In Review > North America

Gianni Schicchi & Pagliacci 

LOS ANGELES
LA Opera
9/12/15

IN Review LA Opera Schicchi hdl 1015
The cast of Gianni Schicchi in LA Opera's revival of Woody Allen's production
© Craig T. Mathew/LA Opera
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Placido Domingo as Gianni Schicchi, with Philip Cokorinos as Betto di Signa and Andriana Chuchman as Lauretta
© Craig T. Mathew/LA Opera
In Review La Opera Pagliacci sm 1015
Marco Berti as Canio in Franco Zeffirelli’s staging of Pagliacci © Craig T. Mathew/LA Opera

LA Opera began its thirtieth anniversary season with an odd coupling—Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci. The rationale for this choice seemed primarily to give LAO general director Plácido Domingo the opportunity to accomplish sing a leading role (Gianni Schicchi) and to conduct an opera (Pagliacci) on the same night. Offbeat as this might sound on paper, the performance was an occasion of tremendous vigor that celebrated Domingo’s illustrious thirty years with the company and allowed us to revisit two of the LA Opera’s signature productions. 

Most of the large cast assembled had already made a significant mark on LA Opera.  We do not often get to see the comic side of Domingo, but his Schicchi in Woody Allen’s modern-dress conception of Puccini’s opera was a marvelous parody of a Sicilian gangster, transported to the more rarified world of Florence; Domingo still sings with impressive heft in the upper ranges of his voice, though lower down it would be good to hear more punch. Meredith Arwady’s cavernous tones gave a dark coloring to the constantly simmering fury of her Zita, while Craig Colclough, as Simone, sang with a flashes of authority. Arturo Chacón-Cruz was a fresh, clear-voiced Rinuccio, and Greg Fedderly and Stacey Tappan were a grasping Gherardo and Nella.  Liam Bonner and Peabody Southwell played Marco and La Ciesca as a quite scandalously oversexed couple. The only newcomer to the company was Andriana Chuchman, whose Lauretta winningly employed coy winsomeness to get precisely what she wanted from the men around her; “O mio babbino caro”, sung with great purity, was a standout. As was Grant Gershon’s conducting, which combined an acute appreciation of the poetry in Puccini’s score with a disciplined brio that brought out the full comic energy of the piece.

Although Franco Zeffirelli’s staging of Pagliacci is overwhelming, the soloists fully held their own. Musically the high point was the duet between Nedda and Silvio; Anna María Martinez and Liam Bonner sang with such rapt focus that Leoncavallo’s music sounded as eloquent and noble a declaration of love as any in the Italian repertoire. Marco Berti, the Canio, has a massive voice.  At times he had problems sustaining extended notes at the highest range, but his “Vesti la Giubba,” in which he seemed to fight with the very limitations of his voice, was a heroic act and rightly earned him a great wall of applause. George Gagnidze’s Tonio was imbued with a profound sense of suffering at his unrequited love for Nedda, combined with a sheer love of violence that gave an especially lethal touch to the ending of the opera. In the pit, Domingo emphasized the broad span of Leoncavallo’s melodies, intensifying the tragedy of the drama.

Both stagings are of a certain vintage. Allen’s realization of Gianni Schicchi dates from 2008 and Zeffirelli’s Pagliacci was first seen here in 1996. Kathleen Smith Belcher, the stage director for the Schicchi revival, sustained a witty, frequently grotesque stream of comic invention that faltered only at the end when—following Allen’s original blocking—Zita stabbed Schicchi to death, a meaningless denouement totally at odds with Puccini’s optimistic Romanticism. Stefano Trespidi, responsible for the Pagliacci staging, turned the Zeffirelli production, noted for its detailed realism and surging crowds, into a positive maelstrom of hyperactivity that actually strengthened the action by suggesting that the passions that drive Canio to murder may well be coursing through each person in the exuberant, disorderly crowd. —Simon Williams 

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