BRAD COHEN, 19 JANUARY
Happy New Year to you! All of us at WAO wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016.
The first production in our 2016 season is our annual celebration at Opera in the Park, on Saturday February 6, and this year we are presenting, for the first time in WAO’s history, Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. I wanted to begin the year with something new for Perth, and the opportunity to widen our knowledge of Puccini’s works was irresistible.
Gianni Schicchi was the last opera Puccini completed (he left Turandot unfinished at his death), and I think it has not a moment of weakness in its hour-long running time. On the surface it is a comedy – the only comedy Puccini ever wrote – and, like Verdi’s last completed opera Falstaff, it licks along at a tremendous pace, with the economy of a master. There are some interesting – and I am sure intentional – resemblances to Falstaff in Gianni Schicchi. There is a larger-than-life title role (a baritone in both cases), a pair of young lovers, a busy ensemble of related characters, with much intrigue and deception. But Puccini’s work with Forzano, his librettist, goes deeper than this, digging a seam out of much older layers of Italian theatre.
Gianni Schicchi can also be seen as a modern re-working of the commedia dell’arte, the world of Harlequin, Columbine and Pantaloon. Similar to Stravinsky paying homage to the world of the circus in his Petrushka a few years before, Gianni Schicchi is a loving tribute to the Italian theatre tradition. And Italian audiences would have fully understood these references – they are not intellectual but emotional.
Dante, in whose Divine Comedy the story of Schicchi first appears, views the character of Schicchi as an upstart, an interloper – in fact a kind of bogan – just as the Donati family views him within the opera. Puccini and Forzano take the opposite position – for them Schicchi is the hero, who unpicks the old order and allows innovation to take root. Intelligence, not high birth, is his gift – and he comprehensively bamboozles the Donati family through his deviousness, his flexibility and his canniness. As much as Puccini was reviled in his early years for coarsening the tradition of Italian opera, betraying the legacy of Verdi, and abandoning the tried and tested forms, so Schicchi himself plants a bomb under the entitled Florentines who detest change and fear its power.
If there is another great Italian work which Gianni Schicchi makes me think of, it is the great novel The Leopard, by Lampedusa. Like Lampedusa, Puccini understand the role of introducing chaos into the established order, because like Lampedusa he understands that “in order for things to stay the same, they need to change”.
Like Verdi in Falstaff, the disruptions Puccini creates in Gianni Schicchi are there to refresh and invigorate the Italian operatic tradition, to let it confront modernity and to take its grit as a tool for renewal. And this principle is also true of our 2016 season at WAO, and my first as artistic programmer – the introduction of newness, whether in repertoire (The Riders andGianni Schicchi), productions (The Elixir of Love and The Pearl Fishers), or casting, is there to stimulate, to provoke, and to reward us all with new energies and insights.
I welcome you all to our 2016 season, and look forward to our conversations throughout the coming year.
Until next time,