L.A. Opera Kicks Off Its 30th Season
Los Angeles Review by Willard Manus

GIANNI SCHICCHI and PAGLIACCI were recently teamed up by L.A. Opera to kick off its 30th season. The results were both impressive and highly entertaining.

SCHICCHI was last seen at the Music Center seven years ago, with Woody Allen directing Puccini’s comic opera with his usual cinematic flair (the filmed opening credits got immediate laughs). This time Kathleen Smith Belcher handled the directorial reins and kept the farce moving along at a heady pace. With Placido Domingo in the lead role as the cunning country-bumpkin who outwits his greedy Florentine family by impersonating its patriarch on his death-bed and re-writing his will, GIANNI SCHICCHI was a hoot from start to finish.

Placido Domingo in the title role of "Gianni Schicchi."
(Photo: Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera)
Domingo, still singing vigorously at 75, brought the mini-opera to life with considerable gusto and skill. He was matched by some of the younger singers, notably Andriana Chuchman as Lauretta (Schicchi’s sexy daughter) and Arturo Chacon-Cruz as Rinuccio, her horny lover. Meredith Arwady, making her L.A. Opera debut, registered strongly as Zita, the hulking, knife-wielding cousin who gives Gianni his come-uppance.

Franco Zefferelli’s production of Leoncavallo’s PAGLIACCI was first presented at the Music Center in 1996 and has been brought back a number of times, if only because the opera, with its many great arias and tear-jerking story, has always been popular with the public. It was no different this time around, with director Stefano Trespidi turning the opera into a dazzling spectacle with the traveling troupe, headed by the clown Canio (Marco Berti), performing on a stage packed with village folk, children, extras and animals (well, one donkey anyway), not to speak of show-folk on stilts, tumblers, harlequins and musicians. Lost in the crowd (at times) were Canio and the other principals: Nedda (Ana Maria Martinez), Tonio (George Gagnidze), Silvio (Liam Bonner), and Beppe (Brenton Ryan).

Brenton Ryan as Beppe in "Pagliacci." (Photo: Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera)
Fortunately, these skilled singers didn’t let all the pomp and circumstance distract them; each of them sang strongly and magnificently, backed up by Domingo’s deft work in the pit (the maestro having taken over the podium to conduct Leoncavallo’s stirring score).
As General Director of L.A. Opera, Domingo also recently announced the rest of company’s 2015/2016 season. Jake Heggie’s monumental modern opera MOBY-DICK will follow SCHICCHI/PAGLIACCI (Oct. 31-Nov. 28), with James Conlon conducting a cast which includes Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab and Joshua Guerrero as Ishmael. MOBY-DICK has been a runaway success, both artistically and commercially, in Dallas, San Francisco, San Diego and Calgary.

Among the other highlights of the L.A. Opera’s new season are NORMA, THE MAGIC FLUTE, MADAME BUTTERFLY and LA BOHEME, the latter with conductor Gustavo Dudamel making his eagerly anticipated LA Opera debut.

(Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Music Center. Visit laopera.org or call 213-972-8001)