Revamping a classic

Who says opera has to be outdated, dry and obscenely long? Last Friday, a cast of 15 students proved quite the opposite with their snappy and delightful performance of Giacomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” the fast-paced comedic opera about greed, betrayal and, of course, overblown emotions.

In the case of “Gianni Schicchi,” Puccini uses such sensationalized emotions to satirize the importance of wealth in society. When the affluent Buoso Donati dies, his heirs gather around his bedside, feigning grief and despair. At the mention of a rumor that Donati may have left all his fortunes to the friars of a monastery, the eight heirs begin frantically tearing through all his belongings in search of his will. When they discover that the rumor is true, and they are left nothing, their sorrow is amplified – only this time, it’s genuine.

The hour-long opera supposedly based on a true story was originally a part of the “Il Trittico” series, three single-act operas in which “Schicchi” provides comic relief. But because of its popularity over the years, “Schicchi” is often performed by itself.

The story opened with a sound you might not expect to hear in a traditional opera, as freshman Matt Corica, playing Donati, exercised his vocal chords with an exaggerated hacking cough. The cast naturally and successfully managed the chaos of the first scene with carefully orchestrated stage movements. Similarly, the students sang the libretto’s English translation with confidence and ease.

After a generous introduction, the infamous schemer Gianni Schicchi enters the scene to help the heirs devise a plan to get their hands on the fortunes. GW Professor Steve Wellman, who played Schicchi, possessed a commanding stage presence well suited for this role. He said he took the part because he thought it would have been difficult for a student to perform.

The secondary plot line, which involves a love story between Schicchi’s daughter and Rinuccio, another one of the heirs, was convincingly depicted by freshman Jennifer Hoffman and sophmore Zach Borichevsky, who said he took the role because opera is “very fun.” The two provided excellent contrast to the commotion of the full-company scenes, slowing down the pace with expressive arias and duets. In larger numbers, the unique quality of both their voices could be heard soaring above the rest.

Although the heirs willingly enlist Schicchi to help them claim Donati’s wealth, they are again surprised when Schicchi changes the will so that he will receive the bulk of the assets. Infuriated at being tricked by their own greed, the heirs begin stealing everything in sight as Schicchi kicks them out of his newly acquired home. With an air of peculiar justice, the opera closes at the same level of commotion at which it began.

This rowdy performance appeared nearly flawless, as the performers conveyed every twist and turn of the complex plot in a clear and seemingly effortless manner, revamping a classic with fresh, youthful energy.

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