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The cast of Gianni Schicchi Says “Hello,’ to Audience Members at Santa Monica Pier
Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci make a fabulous pair for this year’s Season Opening. Blending comedy with tragedy from two wonderful composers, these operas have made an impact both at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and at Santa Monica Pier. Have you missed some of the Gianni Schicchi/Pagliacci magic? Have no fear! We’ve collected a bunch of articles and videos for you to check out and see why so many Angelenos (and non-Angelenos alike) are flocking to see this double-bill.
Get To Know Gianni Schicchi/Pagliacci
Weeks before opening night, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion bustles with preparations for the upcoming opera season. As summer draws to a close, props are unpacked and organized, costume fittings occur, large sets are unloaded, and rehearsals are in full swing for Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.
Making his operatic debut in this month’s upcoming production of Pagliacci is none other than a donkey named Sue (aptly named after the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue”). This tough leading animal arrived this week with his handler in tow, who will be a supernumerary in the show.
Pagliacci opens not with a love triangle scene between Canio, Nedda, and Silvio, but instead with a clown. This is Tonio, the fool of Canio’s troupe. He emerges and addresses the audience directly—“Si puo, si puo,” asking for indulgence.
There’s a lot to be said about LA Opera’s opening show, a double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci. We’ve been watching rehearsals all week and have compiled a list of a few of our favorite things.
Get a Sneak Peek of the hysterical Gianni Schicchi above
Of the many stars hustling around the stage in Gianni Schicchi – the frenetic first half of a double bill with Pagliacci – there’s only one cast member who remains on stage the whole time. That’s character actor Momo Casablanca, who portrays the significant role of Buoso Donati in Puccini’s comedic opera. The opera centers on Buoso’s greedy relatives, waiting to see what he has left them in his will. That’s right – Buoso Donati is already deceased when the curtain rises.
One of the busiest stars currently gracing the LA Opera stage in Gianni Schicchi is only 10. The triple-threat (actor, singer, dancer) plays Gherardino, the son of one of the scheming Donati family members. Besides being in his debut at the opera this season, Isaiah is also an avid YouTuber with his own channel and he’s been featured in several commercials, including ABC Mouse. Check out his latest cover of Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?”
Since the July release of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the internet has been ablaze with stories about opera in film. In the movie, Tom Cruise plays spy Ethan Hunt, who thwarts an assassination attempt during a performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot. Rogue Nation is the latest in a long line of films that feature opera performances – utilizing arias to tell a story or illustrate elements of a character’s psyche. Franco Zeffirelli (whose production of Pagliacci returns to LA Opera this Saturday) specialized in making cinematic adaptations of operas in the 1980s, often collaborating with Plácido Domingo and Teresa Stratas. His 1982 adaptations of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are particularly stunning.
Two of the most famous arias to be used in film are “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. The former is a persuasive aria, which Lauretta uses to convince her father Gianni Schicchi to stop fighting with the family of Rinuccio, the man she loves, while the latter is sung by Canio in Pagliacci after he discovers his wife’s infidelity. Both arias have been included in a plethora of films and television shows for decades.
Here are a few examples:
“O mio babbino caro” – Gianni Schicchi
A Room with a View (1985) – In the film, Lucy Honeychurch (Helena Bonham Carter) is torn between her fiancé Cecil Vyse (Daniel Day-Lewis) and the free-spirited George Emerson (Julian Sands), after meeting the latter in Florence. “O mio babbino caro” (performed by Kiri Te Kanawa) is the film’s main theme, expressing Lucy’s choice between a light-hearted romance and a passionate romance.
One of the most compelling aspects of these two operas is that each breaks the barrier of the fourth wall, that imaginary boundary between the actors and the audience. With Gianni Schicchi, we make it through the entire opera before this disturbing postscript annuls the cumulative comic impulse. In Pagliacci, the fourth wall is broken at the beginning and at the end of the opera, creating an instability that runs as an undercurrent through the whole piece.
There’s a lot to be said about LA Opera’s opening show, a double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci. We’ve been watching rehearsals all week and have compiled a list of a few of our favorite things:
2. If you’re on a low carb diet, stay off the set. There’s spaghetti in both of the one-act shows, and it’s real! Of course we make accommodations for our actors if they have dietary restrictions, but those aren’t rubber prop noodles!
Canio serves as a sort of moral barometer in Pagliacci. Although the tragic clown—smiling on the outside, crying on the inside—is now the stuff of endless parody, we can’t help but sympathize with Canio’s valiant attempts to go on with the show in spite of the devastating realization that Nedda is unfaithful. “Vesti la giubba e la faccia infarina,” laments Canio, “put on the costume and make up your face.” In his naivete, he denied his suspicions about his wife and lashed out at Tonio. We might feel a fleeting sympathy for Tonio were it not for the fact that he is a scheming troublemaker. From his first appearance—“I am the Prologue”—Tonio seems mysterious and intriguing, but he soon proves duplicitous and manipulative. A man who claims to be a literary device cannot be trusted.
Pagliacci is fueled by the crime of passion while Gianni Schicchi is powered by the sin of greed. Pagliacci’s origins were of the most mundane sort, but Gianni Schicchi sprang from a more literary source, one that also had roots in real life. In Canto XXX of The Divine Comedy, Dante and his guide Virgil arrive at the Eighth Circle of Hell, the place of falsifiers and forgers.
“We are starting in the middle of a huge family fight,” conductor Grant Gershon says as he directs the orchestra during a rehearsal for Gianni Schicchi. They are reviewing the overture and the opening scene of the opera, where family members gather at the deathbed of Buoso Donati. There are moments when Gershon perfectly describes how the music changes to reflect the action on the stage. A section they rehearse contains a large crescendo reminiscent of classic Hollywood-era films (very fitting connection for a Woody Allen production) that lightens towards the end. Gershon says this is the moment where the music “switches to decaff.” Orchestra members laugh at this and play the music accordingly, completely understanding the charming analogy.
Just how much can one man take? Imagine having to don a clown costume while the woman you love poses as a virgin even while she’s having an affair with a local villager. Or how about using nothing but your wits to save a family from losing its legacy—only to be cast into hell? Where is the gratitude? The understanding? Given the extenuating circumstances, can’t we all learn a little about forgiveness?
The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is not the only place in Los Angeles where you can experience an LA Opera production. You can see our productions at REDCAT, inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and even at Santa Monica Pier. LA Opera has many programs and initiatives that bring opera to various locations in the county and make sure everyone has access to opera.
In partnership with the County of Los Angeles Public Library and with generous support provided by former Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe (4th district) and Supervisor Hilda Solis (1st district), LA Opera brings professional opera singers to libraries around Los Angeles to perform musical moments from the most celebrated operas for families. Next month’s Puccini Opera Tales has the singers recounting tales from The Girl of the Golden West, Gianni Schicchi, and Turandot, as told by Giacomo Puccini himself.
Since LA Opera’s first season in 1986, Los Angeles is not the only place in the world that you can experience one of the company’s productions. Over the years, they’ve been rented and staged by other opera companies, produced during festivals, and even shown on the big screen. LA Opera’s innovative and beloved productions travel the world, sharing the spirit of Los Angeles and a love of opera with people far and wide.
Here are three productions that have traveled the world in recent years.
Salome (1986; 1989; 1998; 2001; 2017)
LA Opera’s iconic production of Strauss’s Salome (which returns to the LA Opera stage February 18) originally premiered during our first season in 1986. Adapted from the scandalous play by Oscar Wilde, Salome is a seductively beautiful tapestry of the subconscious. The princess Salome becomes infatuated by her stepfather’s prisoner, John the Baptist, and she determines to have him…whatever the cost.
This production of Salome is well traveled and has been staged both close to home (at San Diego Opera) across the country (Washington National Opera) and around the world (on tour with the Savonlinna Festival in Finland and as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival in China).
Sondra Radvanovsky was having a good night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion downtown. The American soprano, giving a recital as part of the L.A. Opera season, had performed repertory ranging from Verdi to Copland, interspersed with personal stories and an emotional tribute to her late father. Now she’d returned for encores—to an audience so enthusiastic she ended up singing four.
Dr. King, it is a privilege and honor to have the opportunity to share your career highlights with our audience. As an internationally recognized teacher, you fly into L.A. to work with our young artists three days every month.
How do the great vocal teachers get great? May we recap a bit of your formal academic path?
I was hooked nearly from the beginning. I went to college at Auburn University in Alabama and began by studying biochemistry. When I made the critical discovery that it would never be my passion, I joined the choir and auditioned for the voice program. After acceptance, I started intensively studying voice. Within six months, I was on stage singing in my first show, Gianni Schicchi. I cringe when I think of how I must have sounded then! After that, I entered graduate school at Florida State University and began singing.
Before he ever conceived of a career in opera, renowned tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz still spent most of his week singing. While studying engineering in his hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico, Chacón-Cruz sang with local trios, mariachis, and even as the lead singer serenading women for other men who were proposing. He was so passionate about singing that his mother signed him up for a voice lesson with an opera coach. At first, Chacón-Cruz protested, but the 15 minutes he spent with his first coach changed the course of his entire life.
“I told my mother, ‘Nobody likes opera. It’s so antiquated,’ but like a good son, I went to the lesson. The teacher – Jesus Li Cecilio – had me wait and I heard him working with another student. I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad.’ Then it was my turn and after hearing me sing for a few minutes, Li Cecilio said that I have a future in opera,” says Chacón-Cruz. He continues, “Those 15 minutes turned into the rest of my life and I couldn’t be happier.” … Continue reading
Richard Cook moved to Southern California from the East Coast in 2003, and began attending LA Opera soon after. “It was the first time I could attend opera without significant travel time. I became a donor very quickly.”
After retiring from a successful career in manufacturing operations and management, Mr. Cook pursued his passions for environmental protection, archeology, and opera. Hailing from a musical family, he had first asked his mother to take him to the opera at 9 years old. “She was delighted,” he recalls. “I turn 87 this year, so that’s a long time seeing opera.”
During the course of his nearly 80 years of opera fandom, Mr. Cook has attended opera productions throughout the US and Europe. He even attended an opera performed at the foot of the Great Pyramids. However, he claims that some of the most memorable operas he has ever experienced have been at LA Opera.