Ivan Segovia does double duty as Gianni Schicchi in Giacomo Puccini's Gianni Schicchi and in Michael Ching's Buoso's Ghost. Credit: Andre Peele.

Review: Capitol City Opera does a double take with two tales of Gianni Schicchi

Mark Gresham | 23 MAR 29019

Gianni Schicchi is the final and most popular part of Puccini’s Il trittico, three contrasting one-act operas which the composer originally intended to be presented together. Although first performed that way in 1918 when it premiered at the triptych was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, these days Gianni Schicchi is more frequently paired with one-act operas of other composers.

Such was the case on Friday night when Gianni Schicchi was presented by Capitol City Opera at the Conant Performing Arts Center in Brookhaven, Georgia, but with an unusual twist: it was followed by a sequel to the story, Buoso’s Ghost, written by composer/librettist Michael Ching, which was premiered by Opera Memphis in 1997. Although the stories are contiguous, Capitol City’s artistic director, Michael Nutter, chose to stage the two works 700 years apart – 1299 and 1999 – using the same cast fitted with different costumes attuned to each period, designed by Pamela Cole, with wig, hair and makeup by by George Devours.

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The 35-year-old Capitol City Opera is best described as a “community opera company” in that its mission is to provide local talent opportunity to perform complete opera roles while making the staged productions accessible to a broad public. One could say that Capitol City Opera is to Atlanta Opera what a community theater troupe is to the Alliance Theatre, or a community orchestra is to the Atlanta Symphony. On the one hand, there is no real comparison in terms of league they’re playing in. On the other, companies like Capitol City Opera have a vital role in the city’s overall artistic life, just as community theater and community orchestras do.

For any such group, budgetary matters necessarily restrict production costs, though that also can offer incentive for creativity and real-world awareness of the essentials required to mount a production. Capitol City Opera’s minimal sets by Christopher M. Black and properties and furniture by Ladisa Banks are just enough to serve and outline the action on stage and periods, amiably illuminated by Nina Gooch’s lighting.

As for the two operas themselves, Gianni Schicchi is an appropriate choice for a community company. It’s 15 named sung roles – not counting one supernumerary plus Buoso’s corpse in this production – give a large number of singers their own individual parts. At the same time, they are most often performing in ensemble, so a separate opera chorus is not required and not a lot of pressure rests on most of the individual characters. The same applies to Ching’s Buoso’s Ghost, which, while more interesting in some ways, cannot stand alone. It requires Gianni Schicchi as precedent. Ching further umbilically ties the two together by referencing themes and motifs in Puccini’s music. Not surprising that, just as Schicchi ends in a Puckish Shakespearian manner, with Gianni speaking to the audience, asking them to forgive him for his misdeeds, likewise Ching has Gianni asks the audience’s forgiveness of the composer for daring to write a sequel. Other parallels naturally abound.

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Venezuelan-American baritone Iván Segovia capably portrays trickster anti-hero Gianni Schicchi, who in both operas serves the foil to the deceased Buoso’s scheming family. The young lovers, soprano Megan Mashburn as Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta and tenor Nathan Munson as Rinuccio, have the most vocally challenging and prominent lyrical parts in their arias and duets. Lauretta’s interlude, “O mio babbino caro,” is one of Puccini’s best known and most popular arias.

Over the course of the evening the rest of the cast each gets his or her moment – some more, some less. The ensemble work in both of these situation comedies is presented as camp, with the necessary suspension of disbelief that entails on the part of the audience. Nutter’s staging often has them moving together as a group or in a “stand there, face the audience and sing” mode. Hardly subtle, but it passes in the relaxed, entertaining context of Capitol City’s performance. It’s hardly stodgy, and the informality seems quite appropriate for this local community-oriented company of good intent, willing talent, but modest means.

The final two performances of Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost take place tonight at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm at the Conant Performing Arts Center on the Oglethorpe University campus in Brookhaven. ■

*Brookhaven is an incorporated city adjacent to Atlanta’s northeast side.

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