PUCCINI, "Gianni Schicchi" and LEONCAVALLO, "I Pagliacci," Utah Opera and Utah Symphony, James Meena conducting. Capitol Theater, May 12, 14, 16 and 18 at 8 p.m. For tickets, call 533-6494.
Listening to Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi" and Leoncavallo's "Pag-liacci" side by side, one notes the difference in stylistic development of these two contemporaneous composers, who were split asunder by their famous battle of the "Bohemes."Leoncavallo's art climaxed with this work of verismo violence. Puccini, who began in the same vein with "Tosca," found his way with the one-act "Schicchi" into a delightfully witty byway, setting his tale of a foxy lawyer, who outsmarts a pack of greedy relatives, with warmth and charm as ambient as the Florentine sunlight that penetrates the stage.
The time of "Gianni Schicchi" is listed as 1299, and probably the clutch of Florentines depicted felt very au courant, just turning the corner into a new century. Without doubt, their barely veiled venality and rapacity are as easily recognizable among today's citizenry as at anytime in the past. Hence this opera really seems less dated than the passionate "I Pagliacci."
The production of "Schicchi," led by the talented and famous Giorgio Tozzi as the peasant-turned-lawyer, is an excellent one. America loves Su-pertitles, and they add greatly to the merriment in this piece.
Here you have the best of Tozzi - the towering physique and commanding presence, the humanity, the humor, the big bass voice alternating with the assumed quavering tones of the sick Donati. No doubt this is a role of long standing with Tozzi, who has its every rib-tickling nuance down pat.
As his daughter Lauretta, Debbie Mitchell sings "O mio babbino caro," the only famous aria in the show, in relaxed, pliant style, and plays charmingly to Abram Morales as her admirer Rinuccio, again making a stylish and effective appearance with Utah Opera.
As the greedy Donati clan, Utah's good supporting singers wear their rapacity on their sleeves and work as a team to build the mass frustration, desperation and indignation of the disinherited. Nor will you miss stage director Andrew Foldi, a veteran of the Met and many other international stages, offering a complacent and compliant cameo as the doctor Spinelloccio.
"I Pagliacci's" tale of jealousy and revenge among a troupe of strolling players opens on a fine note - the Prologue before the curtain, delivered by Robert McFarland. One has few qualms about predicting international success for this fine bass baritone, whose individuality shines right through his clown's makeup and costume. A good singing actor, he makes of Tonio a poor man's Iago; definitely a singer to watch.
Augusto Paglialunga contributes a forceful and passionate Canio, singing his heart out in "Vesti la giubba" and his other arias and scenes, though his human suffering does not always show through. Susan Marie Pierson sings a fine Nedda, with every requisite quality in place - the rounded, well-controlled lyric voice, the attractive appearance, the physicality, the emotional range. She seems a little uncomfortable with some of the staging, which has its contrived aspects, with much pitching about and lying on the floor.
Stephen Lussman makes his best impression yet with Utah Opera, finding the high baritone range comfortable and projecting excitingly as a romantic Silvio. Again one wondered about staging the climax of the love duet with the singers huddled under the players' stage; reasonable for lovemaking, no doubt, but not the best place to hoist out the big passionate notes.
Morales contributes naturally and gracefully as the sensible Beppe/
light-footed Harlequin. The play within the play is well staged, especially for Nedda.
A lively chorus and cast of supernumeraries confer a sense of festival.
James Meena provides effective leadership throughout in the pit. The orchestra is especially affecting in the sweeping prelude to Act II of "Pagliacci."