The University of North Florida Music Flagship Program presented the comic opera “Gianni Schicchi” by Puccini in the Robinson Theatre for four performances. It was well attended by appreciative audiences who delighted in the fast-paced humorous opera that is considered one of Puccini’s most popular. Composed in 1917-18, it has been widely recorded and has been a very popular choice for university opera projects.
This production featured a fully furnished set and lightning design by Johnny Pettegrew and Andrew Mathews and was a visual delight with elegant furniture and textiles that included a massive curtained renaissance bed. The Costume Crew designed the costumes which were contemporary, with a mixture of subdued and bright colors.
Dr. Simon Shiao conducted the UNF Orchestra. The excellent music performance, sung in English, included one of the most famous arias in opera, “O mio babbino caro” (“Oh my dear papa”).
One of the reasons for the popularity of “Gianni Schicchi” is the simple but humorous plot that created some larger-than-life characters.
It concerns the wealthy Buoso Donati who now lies very dead in his four-poster bed. Relatives, far more concerned with what he has left them in his will than with any grief related to his passing, have gathered around him. The relatives were played by KERRA SIMMONS, CLAIRE LEGRAND, THOMAS JANSON, HOLLY KWAAK, TORI JACKSON, JUSTIN WALKER, PETER JACKSON, CHRIS RANDOLPH AND BRITTANY SANTOS. The dead Buoso was played by BRIAN HAYES, whom we know from previous performances has an excellent voice. Here, his role was probably the least demanding he will ever be called upon to perform in opera. He made an excellent corpse, which was fully acknowledged by the audience during the curtain call.
Back to the story. The relatives begin a frenzied search for the will, rummaging frantically throughout the bedchamber. After Rinuccio, played by SHAUN ADAMS finds the will, he receives permission from his mother to marry Gianni Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta, and sends a messenger summoning them to join the family’s celebration. But when the will is read, a pall of disappointment comes over the relatives faces; Buoso has left most of his fortune to a monastery.
Enter Gianni Schicchi, dressed in an elegant blue pinstriped suit, with two-tone shoes and a white fedora. The picture of a successful con man, Gianni is played by baritone JAKE ROTHMAN. Mr. Rothman, no stranger to leading roles in opera and musical theatre, sang this role exceptionally well. He is also a fine comedian, and performed in true Italian style, with an extended nose (think Cyrano de Bergerac). After the show, we asked Dr. Krzysztof Biernacki, UNF Opera Ensemble Director about the nose, and he said the character–with his big nose– is based on a description in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”.
Schicchi paces the room studying the will for a solution and is followed back and forth by the entire cast in a hilarious scene. When a physician (MATHEUS COURA), not knowing Buoso is dead, comes to attend to him, Schicchi quickly conceals himself behind the bed curtains, impersonates Buoso, and convinces the doctor he is feeling better and just needs sleep.
Schicchi tells the relatives to find a lawyer; he will pretend to be Buoso and dictate a new will. The family members think this is an excellent idea, and let him know the possessions each expects from the estate. Schicchi points out that what they are doing is illegal, the penalty if caught is exile and amputation of the hands.
Enter the notary/lawyer (RANDI SALINAS). Schicchi begins his dictation by stating the new will supersedes all others. He bequeaths a small amount of coins to the church, and some gold to the relatives. When it comes to the expensive mule and mills and house, he leaves them to his devoted friend, Gianni Schicchi. The relatives are outraged, but fearful of criminal charges, have no recourse. Schicchi is now able to sanction the marriage of Rinuccio to his lovely daughter Lauretta (BRIANNA SPARKLIN).
After the lawyer has left, the relatives turn on Schicchi calling him, a villian, thief and traitor. Schicchi shouts “Out! Out!” They depart, looting as they exit. Schicchi bows to the audience, asking that they, unlike Dante, find him not guilty if they have been amused.
We recognized many in the cast from previous productions at UNF and we saw new and emerging talent as well. All in all it was a most interesting evening of opera, with excellent voices, acting, and staging as well as sets and costumes. We are looking forward to future endeavors by the UNF Opera Ensemble and Orchestra.