Sunday, June 23, 2013

Philly and Florence

If an opera--or a play or movie, for that matter--is good enough, it can likely be transported to a different time and place and still shine. This became clear to me yesterday at a performance of Puccini's one-act comedy, Gianni Schicchi, by the IN Series at the Gala Hispanic theater on the "new" 14th Street in DC.

It's a delightful comic opera--Puccini's only one--about a greedy family hoping to re-write the will by which their despised rich uncle-cousin disinherited them. And it even has one of the composer's finest arias--O mio babbino caro--made famous when sung as background by Kiri TeKanawa to the main titles of the film, A Room With a View. When performed as the third in Il Trittico, Puccini's three one-acters, it lifts the spirit after the preceding two tragedies. It's the kind of comic relief Chaucer understood was needed when he followed the dour Monk's Tale of seemingless endless tragedies with the Nun's Priest's Tale almost as rollicking (if not as X-rated) as the renowned Miller's.

The setting was moved from somewhat timeless Florence to equally undated (and just as Italian) South Philadelphia. Instead of his lumber business, the old miser Buoso, now Bruno, owns a chain of cheesesteak joints. So yes, everything worked, the comedy survived translation into English, the two singers with real arias showed themselves equal to their roles, and maestro Frank Conlin at the piano (a wonderful man and superb musician who used to be the accompanist for Vanessa's violin-class recitals) made Puccini's late-period score come to life. This is a Puccini who by 1918 had moved beyond the wonderful yet classically sentimental Boheme and Butterfly musically.

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