Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost
George Opera, Spa Little Theater, July 12
Giacomo Puccini wrote his one-act opera Gianni Schicchi
as part of a seemingly endless trio of one-acts titled Il
Trittico, with the other two as serious as this one is funny.
And Gianni Schicchi is very funny, taking its idea
from a fleeting reference in Dante’s Divine Comedy
and expanding it into a picture of familial greed and jealousy
in 13th-century Florence.
As a companion piece, Michael Ching’s Buoso’s Ghost
uses the same setting and principal characters and picks up
the action just after the Schicchi curtain falls. It’s
a charming conceit, and the work is a charming trifle. It’s
hard to top Puccini, and Ching, a well-regarded composer who
also is the artistic and general director at Opera Memphis,
doesn’t try. Instead, he peppers the work with allusions to
its predecessor, spins the mad plot a few turns forward, and
finishes on a note of delightful irreverence.
There’s no killer soprano aria; in fact, Ching sends the soprano
and tenor leads offstage at the start of his piece, right
after they sing a tuneful duet about their (what else) undying
love for one another. Buoso’s Ghost is really a showpiece
for the character of Gianni Schicchi, and why not? The role
is so delightful that it always allows the bass-baritone to
steal the show.
Robert Orth brims in the part with crafty joie de vivre, easily
able to right any wrongs provided his own wishes are fulfilled.
There’s so much room to go over the top with this piece that
Orth is to be congratulated for his comparative restraint.
Sure, he succumbs to occasional shtick, but it works in the
context of Nelson Sheeley’s traditional but animated direction.
As befits Gianni Schicchi, it’s presentational and
played for laughs. Buoso’s Ghost follows in that tradition,
and benefits from it.
We have a scheming family, intent on winning an inheritance.
As the matriarchal Zita, Kathryn Cowdrick leads the way in
presenting whatever face might work at the moment: angry,
scheming, entreating, dismayed. Christopher Temporelli brings
an impressive bass voice to the role of Betto even while wearing
the world’s worst beard.
Schicchi features one of the world’s all-time killer soprano
arias, it’s own “to be or not to be” moment as Lauretta (Khori
Dastoor) implores Schicchi, her father, to let her marry the
tenor she adores. Foreshadowed in the orchestra in the moments
before it bursts forth, “O mio babbino caro” works
as a dramatic moment in spite of its familiarity, and Dastoor
gave it her all, gorgeously shaping the arresting moment.
It’s also a character moment. Lauretta is so ardent that it’s
an amusing contrast to the others, even her almost-as-ardent
boyfriend, Rinuccio, sung by Colin Ainsworth.
On the whole, there was an impressive consistency to the entire
cast, which included David Neal and Curt Olds, along with
apprentice artists Emily Newton and Gregory Zavracky. Apprentice
artist Brian Shircliffe brought the appropriate gravitas to
his dual role as the notary in Schicchi and the magistrate
in Ghost, and there was a charming cameo in the first
opera by young Lucy Ching. And let’s not forget the late Buoso
himself, Patrick Hussey, who achieved impressive stillness
and withstood much abuse.
As for Buoso’s Ghost, I longed for a killer aria along
the lines of Lauretta’s, but Puccini raised the bar awfully
high. Ching’s compositional voice is decidedly contemporary,
but he’s less afraid of melody than many and worked in some
excellent, non-Puccinian tunes. Orchestral textures were well
crafted and well suited to the voices, and the plotting held
at least as many surprises as in Schicchi.
We had the bonus of having Ching on hand to conduct the excellent
orchestra, placed above and upstage of the action. But that
also allowed the character of Schicchi, once the action in
Buoso’s Ghost had been resolved, to berate the poor
composer for his impudence in writing a sequel, a very funny
tag to an extremely enjoyable performance.