We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, July 8, 2017


Cast of Prelude to Performance's production of Gianni Schicchi

We have already written extensively about Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance and we have just reviewed the first half of an evening of Puccini which we thoroughly enjoyed. The second half comprised a superb production of Gianni Schicchi, based on a minor character in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy.  Giovacchino Forzano created a compelling comic libretto and Giacomo Puccini created some sparkling music that tickles the ear.

The success of this masterpiece requires ensemble work of the highest order and that is just what we got last night at the Kaye Playhouse.  You can get it too if you move quickly, as there is a final performance Sunday afternoon and you may never again have the opportunity to see the tale this well told.

This is a story requiring authenticity of time and place in order for us to relate to its generality and its marvelous message.  We all love to see the greedy and grasping get what they deserve. We can recall so many plays based on squabbling families fighting over their inheritance.

In this case, la famiglia Donati is noisily and disingenuously grieving their newly deceased patriarch. All sorrow is gone when they learn that old Buoso (Steven Mo Hanan) has left all his money and property to the monks.

Young Rinuccio (tenor Spencer Hamlin) is in love with Lauretta (soprano Anna Adrian Whiteway) who is the daughter of the wily peasant Gianni Schicchi (baritone Joshua DeVane). Rinuccio's snooty aunt Zita (marvelous mezzo-soprano Leah Marie de Gruyl) forbids his marriage to a girl without a dowry.

When you hear Ms. Whiteway sing "O mio babbino caro" you just know that her father will relent and agree to help the family that disparages him, and help himself in the process. And when Rinuccio sings the praises of Firenze we know he deserves the girl! The duet of the two lovebirds was beautifully sung.

The opera revolves around Schicchi's elaborate and risky plot to create a new will through the offices of the notary (Ben Reisinger, who also played Dottore Spinelloccio ) and his assistant Pinellino (Charles Carter).

The squabbling relatives included Melanie Ashkar as La Ciesca, Nicholas LaGesse as Marco, Vincent Grana as Simone,  Nicole Rowe as Nella, Hao Hu as Gherardo, Frida Werner as Gerardino, and Karl Buttermann as Betto, the poor relation.

The entire cast played off each other with great humor and laughter rang through the theater on numerous occasions. That the singing was superb throughout could almost be taken for granted. Ian Campbell's direction kept things moving at a fast pace and provided many small touches that distinguished the characters from one another. The bit about forgetting the manner of crossing oneself was just one of many. Snuffing out the candles that were initially lit to honor the deceased--(post revelation of Buoso's will) was another funny moment.

Joshua Rose's set was far more elaborate than that for Suor Angelica and is exactly what we would imagine for Renaissance Italy. Costuming by Charles R. Caine was even more elaborate with each character dressed according to their age and station. The beard and makeup for Simone was notably convincing and accomplished by Steven Horak.

Maestro Willie Anthony Waters brought out all the humor in Puccini's score. There is a repeated motif of a downward inflected pair of notes, a whole tone apart, and all one has to do to burst out laughing is to hear that motif.

Don't miss this outstanding production.  You are not likely to see such a fine production again!

(c) meche kroop

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