Puccini, Gianni Schicchi
Offenbach, Mr. Cauliflower Remains at Home
Double-bill at the Novaya Opera tonight: Gianni Schicchi by Puccini and Mr. Cauliflower Remains at Home by Offenbach.
Both operas were staged as farces. This worked better for the Offenbach piece than for the Puccini, which relies more on its clever text to provide the comedy. Perhaps the director assumed that Russians who do not speak Italian would not understand the humor (although supertitles were provided) so decided to ham it up for a laugh. But people were not laughing that much. By contrast, the Offenbach opera was performed in Russian, and the audience was in hysterics.
This production of Gianni Schicchi began before the music: at a birthday party for Buoso Donati, at which his family accidentally kills him as part of the slapstick act. This type of humor continues throughout, and at the very end, after the opera should be over, Donati suddenly comes back to life, aware of what has gone on, and chases Gianni Schicchi out of the house. All of this extraneous action was wasted, since the humor of the opera is more subtle. The cast at least understood that, and when singing their roles (in clear Italian) did convey the text properly. Oleg Didenko (as Simone) and Galina Korolëva (as Lauretta) especially excelled, and Dimitry Volosnikov kept the music lively in the pit.
For the Offenbach, the farce worked. My Russian was insufficient to keep up with the text, and it is not an opera I previously knew (I’ve only read the plot summary on the day of the opera), but the audience kept laughing steadily, so I suppose it worked. I could follow the plot easily enough, and enjoy the slapstick, but not catch the nuances of the text. But the setting clearly worked better for the second half of the double-bill than for the first. Musically, the company gave a better performance for the Puccini, however.