ALBUM TITLE: Puccini
WORKS: Gianni Schicchi
PERFORMER: Plácido Domingo, Andriana Churchman, Arturo Chacón-Cruz; La Opera Orchestra/Grant Gershon; dir. Woody Allen
CATALOGUE NO: 88985315089
It’s a curious mix, New York angst embracing Florentine swagger, and doubts about the wisdom of the Los Angeles Opera inviting Woody Allen to direct Puccini’s one-act comedy linger long after the final curtain call. It’s clear from the fake screen credits – with a cast led by Tonio Salmonella and Oriana Fellatio, directed by Luigi Impetigo – accompanied by a rousing rendition of ‘Funiculì, Funiculà’, that Allen sees the piece as a slice of Italian cinema (Fellini’s spivs in I vitelloni or the boys in Bicycle Thieves).
So the set has that cluttered chaos one associates with 1950s bourgeois movie interiors (no hint of Dante’s city to honour the poet who fathered Schicchi’s story in his Inferno). At the back of the stage, Brunelleschi’s great dome holds sway over the Florentine skyline; down front there’s a four-poster bed for the dead Buoso, washing on a line, and endless ill-assorted tables and chairs for the venal relatives to dance around as they set about changing the will. Heavy drapes, too, to hide the plotters who are hardly the familiar stereotypes we expect in Gianni Schicchi. Allen’s casual naturalism sits uncomfortably with these essentially commedia characters.
Adriana Chuchman is a luscious Lauretta, Arturo Chacón-Cruz suitably hang dog as Rinuccio and Meredith Arwady’s Zita the Jewish mother from hell; but it’s Plácido Domingo’s Schicchi that the audience have come to see. What they get is not a buffo master, but a heroic baritone moved by feelings as much as artfulness. Draped in the kind of striped suit that gives Little Italy tailors a bad name, one cannot but admire Domingo. It’s magnificent but it really isn’t Gianni Schicchi.