11 July 2016 | TheLittleSongbird
Interesting but odd
'Gianni Schicchi' is by far and away Puccini's funniest opera, his only one in fact. When done well it brings so much fun and joy, and the music is typical Puccini.
To me, this production is not a patch on the Glyndebourne performance with Alessandro Corbelli and Sally Matthews, still the best one on DVD, though the Royal Opera, Covent Garden also did an excellent one a few years back. It's interesting but also rather odd, notable for starring Placido Domingo, cast against type in the title role, and for being directed by film director Woody Allen with help from Kathleen Smith Belcher.
As somebody who considers Domingo one of her favourite singers and somebody who loves a lot of Allen's work (mostly his late 60s to mid-90s), though he has become hit and miss for a while with 'Midnight in Paris' and 'Blue Jasmine' being his only outstanding films in recent years, this is nowhere near the best of either of them but it does maintain interest.
Domingo actually takes a noble stab as Schicchi, a rare comedy role in a career mostly consisting of amorous lovers like 'La Traviata's Alfredo, tortured characters like Otello, regal father figures like Simon Boccanegra and even occasional villain roles like 'Il Trovatore's Count Di Luna (if more a conflicted sort of villain, not the irredeemably evil villain like 'Otello's Iago or 'Tosca's' Scarpia). It mostly comes off well, it is a very funny, sometimes sincere and occasionally menacing interpretation and while he is well past prime vocally with less of the burnished sound in his 20s to 40s and a more unsteady and less attractive sound he still uses it with great musicality and character, a much better performances than his Berlin and Salzburg Di Luna which were rare misfires in a great career.
He is well supported by mostly solid performances from the rest of the cast, particularly Andriana Chuchman's charming and touching Lauretta, singing the opera's most well known bit "O Mio Babbino Caro" beautifully. The character/comedy roles are well-filled and characterful, if hindered by the staging. The orchestra play with tender lyricism, a humorously light touch as well as a twisted darkness that one wishes was matched by the staging. Grant Hershon's conducting is accommodating and sympathetic but also energetic and alert to the drama.
The DVD is good enough, with only some uneven sound balance underwhelming with some of the voices sounding distant and not always audible, Arturo Chacon-Cruz's Rinuccio being the worst case. The picture quality is focused and the video directing expansive and intimate.
Chacon-Cruz is the weak link casting-wise of the production as Rinuccio too. It's not the most interesting of roles to begin with, but Chacon-Cruz constantly sounds under-powered and lacking in energy and emotion, and is pretty bland as an actor.
Visually, the only thing this reviewer liked was the set backdrop of Florence, but one wishes it was utilised more. The mix of 50s Italian and even some overtones of mafia didn't gel with the style of the opera, and looked pretty cheap. But the staging that hurt it the most. The comedy needed to be more consistent and funnier, there could have been a darker edge to balance it all out and there are far too oddities and mismatches that add absolutely nothing and distract hugely rather than entertain. Listing any examples would be pointless, because the production was filled with them and showed a lack of respect for the opera and Puccini. Some may disagree but that's just my honest opinion.
Overall, an interesting production in some ways but odd and disappointing. 6/10 Bethany Cox