PUCCINI Gianni Schicchi
You normally know what you’re getting from a Woody Allen production when the black screen with the white credits pops up, to the tune of some old jazz standard. In his 2008 Los Angeles Opera production of Puccini’s comedy, however, the veteran director cooked up a short video curtain-raiser accompanied by ‘Funiculì, funiculà’. This zany showreel introduces ‘Vitello Tonnato’, ‘Oriana Fellatio’ and others in a ‘Prosciutto e Melone Production’. Quick, pass the chianti!
This show is from Allen’s bin-ends, not the vintage barrels. It’s hard to know how much involvement the auteur had with this 2015 revival: Kathleen Smith Belcher is credited as associate director, and though the performance lasts under an hour, there are no DVD extras – not even an interview with Allen himself. And how disappointing that a film director’s opera production has itself been filmed so poorly by Matthew Diamond.
So, the appeal here is not really Allen but Plácido Domingo, in another of his excursions into the baritone repertoire and one of his few light-hearted roles. But there’s a gear-crunch when he saunters into this sepia 1950s Florence (handsome if cluttered sets by Santo Loquasto), because Allen’s vision of Schicchi is a swanky gangland spiv, and Domingo has the same twinkle in his eye as if he’s singing ‘Granada’ at the Baths of Caracalla. He plays Schicchi like he’s in on the joke but doesn’t know what the joke is, and there’s little ripeness or brio to the voice either.
Perhaps another Allen, Thomas – who sang the role when the production was new – better understood where Woody was going. Here, though, Domingo’s amiable blankness sets the tone: the comic sauce simmers but doesn’t comes to a boil. If everyone on stage – whether it’s the grasping Donatis, the apparently criminal Schicchi or even his hard-nosed daughter (it’s hard to believe that Andriana Chuchman’s brassy Lauretta just kissed Rinuccio when they went to Fiesole) – is on the take, then the denouement feels pretty empty. As if Woody realises that, there’s a final twist on the twist: I found it a jarring miscalculation, although the Angelenos seemed to love it.
The orchestra under Grant Gershon bowl along emphatically. There are some good cameos, including Peabody Southwell’s sex-bomb portrayal of La Ciesca, Craig Colclough’s sly Simone and Meredith Arwady’s formidable Zita, powerfully delivered in a foghorn-alto. Yet neither Chuchman’s Lauretta nor Arturo Chacón-Cruz’s Rinuccio thrill in their big arias: more missed opportunities for Italian sunshine in a spag-bol of a show.