Los Angeles Opera launched its 30th Opera Season with two operatic treasures beautifully joined in an evening featuring one of the world’s true Superstars of Opera, Placido Domingo. He not only sang, but, later in the evening, he also conducted — in short, running the whole show!
[Below: Gianni Schicchi (Placido Domingo, left) gestures as Simone (Craig Colclough, center) looks on; edited image, based on a Craig T. Mathew photograph for the Los Angeles Opera.]
Having dominated the opera scene in Los Angeles since its arrival in 1986 at Los Angeles’ very grande Music Center with Mr Domingo starring in the opening production of Otello (I was there!), Mr Domingo (one of L A Opera’s primary founders) has sung 27 operas here, conducted 21, and now does both in one stellar evening – a rarely enjoyed treat of world class dimension presented by a now world class opera company – now America’s fourth largest.
Los Angeles Opera and Puccini’s “Trittico”
To open its 2008-09 season, the Los Angeles Opera had mounted Puccini’s three-opera “Trittico” that consists of “Il Tabarro”, about jealousy and murder on a barge in Paris’ Seine River, and “Suor Angelica”, which is about a miracle experienced by a nun, whose family had abandoned her to the nunnery because she bore an out of wedlock child.
The Los Angeles Opera commissioned Hollywood film director William Friedkin to create the “Tabarro” and “Angelica” productions.
Woody Allen’s “Schicchi” Stands Apart
The third opera of the “Trittico” is the dark comedy “Gianni Schicchi” about an Italian family’s conspiracy to commit fraud to prevent a deceased relative’s estate from going to the church rather than themselves.
For “Schicchi”, the opera company enlisted film director Woody Allen to create a new production. For the [See the review at Woody Allen’s L. A. “Gianni Schicchi”: Spoofing Italian Films – September 6, 2008.]
[Below: a scene from the 2015 staging of the Woody Allen production of Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi”; edited image, based on a Craig T. Mathew photograph for the Los Angeles Opera.]
Allen’s 2008 production was revived to open the 2015-16 Los Angeles Opera season, as a vehicle for Domingo.
Now in his mid-70s, Domingo has proven to be an extraordinary performer, moving from the tenor repertory to a group of carefully chosen roles associated with baritones.
Since 2011, Los Angeles Opera has mounted for Domingo such dramatic or lyric baritone roles as Simon Boccanegra [Legend Making at Los Angeles Opera – Placido Domingo, James Conlon Lead Star-Studded “Simon Boccanegra”, February 11, 2012], Francesco Foscari [Domingo, Meli, Poplavskaya Shine in Strassberger’s Rousing Revival of Verdi’s “Two Foscari” – Los Angeles, September 15, 2012], Athanael [Placido Domingo, Nino Machaidze In a Triumphant “Thaïs” – Los Angeles Opera, May 17, 2014] and Germont [Review: Nino Machaidze and the Domingos (Placido and Marta) Create a Memorable “La Traviata” – Los Angeles Opera, September 13, 2014].
Neither the three Verdi operas nor that by Massenet gave Domingo any chance at humor, but “Schicchi” is quite a different matter.
[Below: the relatives of the deceased, Marco (Liam Bonner, left) Zita (Meredith Arwady, second from left), Nella (Stacey Tappan, second from right) and Gherardo (Greg Fedderly, right) seem to be in disagreement with the deceased’s last wishes as recorded in his will; edited image, based on a Craig T. Mathew photograph for the Los Angeles Opera.]
The screaming comedy “Gianni Schicchi”, as envisioned by Woody Allen – in a colorless, dumpy, 1950’s Midwest street-clothes scenario, came off quite well with Sr Domingo obviously enjoying doing the role of the evil, treacherous, conniving title-role character Gianni Schicchi.
Gianni’s frumpy daughter Lauretta was well played by Andriana Churchman in her Los Angeles Opera debut. Churchman beautifully sang her famous aria O mio Bambino Caro to much applause. [See a previous Churchman review at A Lively Lerner and Loewe “Camelot” at Glimmerglass Festival – July 19, 2013.]
The extraordinary cast surrounding Domingo demonstrated that it is a badge of honor these days for artists to have appeared onstage with him.
Lauretta’s erstwhile lover, Rinuccio, was played by Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, who had been impressive at the Los Angeles Opera the previous season [see Review: Los Angeles Opera’s Magically Staged and Sung “Florencia en el Amazonas” – November 22, 2014.]
[Below: Lauretta (Andrianna Churchman, right) is with her father Gianni Schicchi (Placido Domingo, left) and Beppe di Siena (Philip Cokorinos, center); edited image, based on a Craig T. Mathew photograph for the Los Angeles Opera.]
Other cast members included Liam Bonner as Marco, Greg Fedderly as Gherardo, Stacey Tappan as Nella, Craig Colclough as Simone, Peabody Southwell as La Ciesca, Philip Cokorinos as Betto di Signa, E. Scott Levin as Maestro Spinellocio, Kihyun Yoon as Ser Amantio, Daniel Armstrong as Pinellino, Gabriel Vamvulescu as Guccio and Isiah Morgan as Gherardino.
But the loudest and most aggressively forward of the greed-drunk relatives (and totally hilarious) was Zita, brilliantly sung by soprano Meredith Arwady in her Los Angeles Opera debut. This production team milked out every laugh scene to the hilt in, without doubt, the best production I’ve ever seen of this screamer (and I have seen a great many)!
Grant Gershon was Conductor, Kathleen Smith Belcher was Director and Santo Loquasto was Set and Costume Designer.