The fall of the house of Donati

Peebles’ stage captured the full breadth of Opera CNU’s talent in Puccini’s ‘Gianni Schicchi’

Schicchi reminds the Donati family of the grave punishment of forgery. KRISTEN ZICCARELLI / THE CAPTAIN’S LOG

By Kristen Ziccarelli

Before Thursday night, ‘Florence’ was just the name of the hurricane that evacuated CNU a few months ago. But with Opera CNU’s Thursday night performance of Gianni Schicchi, the cast and the orchestra revealed the true Florence – a city of Italian grandeur, home to young love, heavenly skies and most importantly, the Donati family.

Directed by Dr. John McGuire, the cast of mostly all CNU undergraduates performed Giacomo Puccini’s decades-old comic one-act opera in a striking – and at times, breathtaking display of musical talent last week.

Lasting about an hour, the opera featured a memorable set of an old Italian house and one central piece of furniture: the bed. The cast donned colorful dresses and tailored suits, serving to emphasize their liveliness against the neutral backdrop.    

In a short overture resembling the intensity of La bohéme, the tempo and rhythm quickly settled into a rhythm synchronized with the Donati’s sobs. Mourning the death of their relative Buoso, the family’s grief is more comical than tragic, as dramatic cries and (mostly) real tears settle into shared outrage that Donati has left his entire fortune to the monks.

With no inheritance, the Donati family desperately accepts the help of outsider Gianni Schicchi, who schemes to impersonate Buoso and re-write the will to include family wishes, and (unbeknownst to the Donatis) his own fortune to provide for his daughter’s dowry.

Much like any great classical opera, the brilliant plot is only the beginning. With spectacular voices harmonized to a small but powerful orchestra conducted by Dr. John Corbin, the instrumental and vocal talent remained the most commendable aspect of the opera.

Sung in the original Italian with surtitles timed to the libretto, the authentic language brought a distinct professionalism and beauty to the performance. “O mio babbino caro,” the famous soprano aria sung by Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta (Amelia Burkley) was simply stunning. Raising her voice to such an elevated state of beauty, Lauretta’s pleas for her father’s sympathy seem at once simple and appealing, expounding love in the face of the Donati’s petty feuding.

As grief turns to anger for the Donati family, their voices rise in chorus as they condemn the monks and mourn the inevitable loss of their social status. As they build off each other’s tempers and work their resentment into a frenzy, the overall effect actually appears more comical, as they mimic the downfall of their reputation as they chant, “ah! ah! ah!  Eccolo là! / Eccolo la un Donati!”

KRISTEN ZICCARELLI / THE CAPTAIN’S LOG

Later on in the opera, the tension between Schicchi and the resentful Zita Donati (Emma Giometti) grew into another moment of resounding song. Exhibiting both anger and desire, the voices of Zita scoffing at Schicchi, Lauretta begging for a union with her lover Rinuccio and Schicchi harmonized perfectly to unify the competing wills.

Equally passionate were Rinuccio’s words of tenderness towards the Schicchis and other foreigners to Florence. Conveying an argument rich in content and form, his song about Florence’s enchanting castles, rivers and vivid landscapes perfectly denounced the family’s ‘out of place’ prejudice towards outsiders.

The solo arias demonstrated the cast’s expert staging, where one individual was able to make a strong impression with multiple people on stage the entire time. Both Rinuccio and Lauretta’s solos were met with reverence and respect from the cast, who stood attentively, with hats off or eyebrows raised.   

Despite the elements of sadness and danger found in Gianni Schicchi, the performance was not without well-timed stylistic and spoken comedy. Such elements of humor were established within the first ten minutes. Fixed on finding Buoso’s will, the Donati’s hilariously tear through their house, throwing papers over their shoulders and exciting themselves with false alarms of finding their treasure.

The arrival of the slightly inept physician, Master Spinelloccio (Daniel Carbill) prompted a hilarious exchange between him and Schicchi, disguising himself as Buoso. Spinelloccio’s nasally Bolognese accent brought an unexpected dissonance to the scene, an aspect that the cast and audience had fun with.

KRISTEN ZICCARELI / THE CAPTAIN’S LOG

The Donati house remained the sole set of Gianni Schicchi, arguably undergoing more transformations than the characters themselves – torn apart, coveted by Schicchi and then pillaged by the angry Donatis. Making for a dramatic effect that invited the audience to reflect on the Donati’s downfall, the empty house is left uninhabited for a few moments near the end, accompanied only by the angry cries of the Donati’s and Gianni Schicchi.

Standing against the stripped Donati house, Rinuccio and Lauretta take the stage for their ending duet, recalling their love and singing of their future in an angelic, elevated song that raised opera to its highest form.

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