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.
Casablanca’s portrayal makes Buoso much more than a body in a bed; he’s a rarely-stationary corpse adding a wealth to Woody Allen’s absurdist staging of Gianni Schicchi. At one point, Buoso is hauled out of bed and dumped outside the Donati house, where he’s given a hat, sunglasses and a cup, making him look more like a blind beggar than the deceased patriarch of a wealthy Florentine family.
For Casablanca, this is the work he enjoys best. It may be his first operatic experience, but he has loved theater since he knocked on the stage door of his neighborhood theater company in Paris at age 12 and announced that he wanted to work there. Casablanca went on to study theater and acting, working closely with his mentor, the famed Marcel Marceau. Throughout his life, Casablanca has done extensive physical work (crucial when embodying a character such as Buoso) and has constantly searched for roles that provide “clarity” and out of body experiences. Being part of Gianni Schicchi allows him these experiences, as he lies in bed surrounded by beautiful singing, playing dead, but completely alive and aware.