Friday, May 31, 2013

Gianni Schicchi Diary pt. 5: Who Are These People?

I wanted to offer my ideas for back story for each of the characters. Final decisions are up to the individual artists. These are suggested. But it is important that each character, title role or one line, have a history and an idea oh why s/he is in this story.

Settings : Florence 1299
 Forzano is carefully to make the Donati family what seems to us distantly related. Zita is Buoso's cousin. .

Remember the Gibellini wrote a political faction against the Catholic church. They were routinely exiled, or worse. Rinuccio her nephew. (What does that make him to Buoso?) The rest are cousins and in laws.If Buoso had a direct line there'd be no show.

I would describe the Donati as middle class. They are literate. Buoso has money and property to leave. A mule equalled commerce and money. The mills (i mulini) were productive. And we are given to understand the 'casa di Firenze' has a roof and a floor-making it more than respectable, even enviable.

GIANNI SCHICCHI-the smartest guy in the room. Eight hundred years later he would have come straight out of Damon Runyon. He's charming, slick, smart and his only "weakness" is his daughter. What about his wife? She is mentioned neither in Dante of by Forzano. Any ideas? Gianni was born in the lower classes and is self-made. That's a problem. He no longer fits in his own class and certainly not amongst the Donati. So where does he belong and does he care?

LAURETTA-very smart. Her father's daughter. She would have been heavily guarded as a very young woman. Probably convent educated. Her love for Rinuccio is more-how to say this gently-horny than true emotional love. Knows babbino will do anything for her-that with him and probably with all men she is in control. She knows exactly how women rule men.

ZITA-matriarch. Married off young. First husband died. Married again. He died. Married a third time. He died. No children. Has built up some $$ as a three time widow but without kids enough is never enough. She is not warm fuzzy. She doesn't need Buoso's money but that's not the point.

 (Here's another way to look at Buoso's family!):

RINUCCIO Mama' s boy. We don't know who Mama is-Zita his aunt is the matriarchal figure. Was he orphaned and raised by these distant relations?  His outlook is more emotional than sexual (girls develop first). 'Fireze e come 'un albero fiorito' is a love Florence, to Lauretta and to the possibilities of getting away from this crowd. Remember, he finds the will and does not hand it over easily.

GHERARDO Nice man. Henpecked but contentedly so. He has a low level job in a banking concern distantly related to the Medici. He is content with his life. He will cry after being cheated out of the Donati estate, but he will recover before anyone else.

NELLA The boss. An Italian woman of her time knows everything depends on money. You CAN buy everything. Gherardo is easy going and that's enough to make her nuts. He likes being bossed around by her so they are a devoted couple. The both dearly love Gherardino

GHERARDINO Is being schooled by the local frate when he bothers to show up. Adorable and crafty. A charmer.Completely unimpressed when his father spanks him.

SIMONE When the relatives say "Tu sei anche stato podesta a Fuccechio...You were once the mayor of Fuccechio, this is not a compliment because Fuccechio is a miserable slum outside Florence. He is the eldest chronologically but not the wisest. He's more rustic and even tho the eldest her remains physically strong. In my mind he has a wife living, ten children who survived-meaning about fifteen to twenty pregnancies-and a passel of grandchildren and they all live in the same house.

MARCO If he has so many siblings and he's here with Papa it might be that he's daddy's boy. The crown prince, to...whatever..especially without a share of the Donati estate. Let's say he's Simone's eldest child. Or the first to live to adulthood. He would be the only child who got the kind of attention parents give children today. Sons were made for procreation. Daughters to bring money into families through marriage.

LA CIESCA She's a cuddly one. She has some status as the wife of the favored son. Is she still living with her in laws and if so is she in competition with Marco's Mama? She's crazy mad in love with her husband, very unusual for the times. Do they have children? How many? Where are they?

(A married woman who is childless had no worth in medieval times. Terrible but true)

BETTO DI SIGNA The suffix di Signa means he is a property owned in Signa. He's Buoso's brother in law. How? Married to sister of is Buoso married to Betto's sister? Betto has a good business background. He is well aware of the worth of the estate, and its uses, if not sure how to acquire Buoso's money.

MAESTRO SPINELLOCCIO..literally "thorn in the eye"  As a very young doctor in Bologna he was the top dog. Ahead of his time. Handsome, successful, good with the ladies. In his mind all of this is still true, But the small healthy part of his mind realizes he's a Luddite. He is deaf, lame, and  was medically up to date in 1250. Buoso used him because Spinelloccio is cheap.

SER AMATIO  DI NICOLAO..Di Nicolao another property owner. In his day notaries were elected, meaning he has a good sense of his authority. He and Gubbio and Pinellino get weepy around "Buoso" because they are his contemporaries and know that they are likely to die next. They probably played cards together.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Gianni Schicchi Diary pt. 4

Aureliano Perile, tenor
I'm going to include a photo of a singer folks should know:

Puccini: Gianni Schicchi
Opera Project Columbus
 June 15 and 16

Last night's rehearsal had more singers but no Gianni Schicchi. Puccini and Dante's Gianni had an adult daughter. My Gianni has a toddler and a cancelled baby sitter. I missed him. But we went on and did some good work.

I arrived at the church basement to find the room set with tables, tablecloths, chairs,  even a vase on each place. I had to move things around to make room and was sweating away when who should show up but the church sexton. Nice older gentleman. He wasn't too pleased with me since he had just finished setting UP these tables, etc. I don't blame him. "Big luncheon here coming up." I doubt it's during the week but okay. I promised him everything would be as he left it. And it very nearly was. I can't promise every table cloth was on daintily but I did my best. Never mind the piano is missing a caster because I stupidly moved-dragged it -myself. "And they ripped up part of the floor" said the Sexton. "Imagine!" I replied. How careless!

Then my morning was cheered by a photo my myself looking like a fat godfather, taken in rehearsal. You want to brag about weight loss? Don't wear a baggy untucked shirt on a hot night.

Well yes, but its not about me. Rehearsals are going well. One role still not cast. Another was kind enough to e mail me to say I live far way, it's  three lines and if I get to one or two rehearsals that's plenty. O-KAAAAY.
And our ten year old boy was so proud of getting his line right! He's three measures ahead but I will personally beat up anybody who gets on his case about it.

The Maestro will be at rehearsals next week .He's my friend and I love him. He's a fabulous musician. To listen to him playing with the Italian text is a joy. What if he hates the staging? Non mi frega niente. It is important that he establish the tempi he wants so the stage action is better timed.

Also I was shown a diagram of the stage with the orchestra seating re-arranged. Initially the orchestra-twenty six pieces-was to be split in half onstage. Leaving us a mall 'corridor' to use. And use it we do but we also use the house and every corner where the orchestra is not. (I'm an audience participation kind of guy)
Now we may have the orchestra all together on a slant upstage This leaves a piece of the area but it will be all ours-and we will still have the lip of the stage for our 'promenades' plus the house. This might be a good compromise.


I've been thinking about the blood and guts of performance. See the above photo of Aureliano Pertile. He wasn't born with a great voice but words, guts and musicianship made him a great artist.Verdi and Puccini do not lend themselves to a pristine performance (paging Renee Fleming) You need some blood in your singing. You need just that touch of arrogance that tells the audience THIS IS IMPORTANT AND I OWN THE STAGE. Verdi and Puccini always win, mind you-but you need to sing and act LARGE (you no longer need to BE large)

Guts. Fearlessness. Like this:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gianni Schicchi Diary pt. 3

 Opera Project Columbus
Gianni Schicchi
June 15 and 16
see opera project columbus dot com 

We had a three day weekend. A surfeit of Reese's cups had me bound up and crabby, but I was rejuvenated
by the time rehearsal rolled around last night. We were at St. Marks church in the choir room, very nice with rather skimpy air conditioning. Oh, well. Beggars can't be choosers.

 I needed an emotional pick up today and speaking of Puccini:

 Moffo. What a beauty. A diva of my youth. She died in 2006 after a number of bad years career wise. When it as beautiful it was very beautiful.

 There's another opera production in business locally. That's a good thing. My old mentor Sarah Caldwell at the Opera Co.of  Boston wasn't the least bothered by neighboring college productions and a week long visit from the Met. "The more opera, the better." I agree but I haven't Sarah's gifts.

Rehearsing with many cast
Sarah Caldwell
members missing is  a challenge. Not so much for me but for the people on the stage. Remember once the show goes up I revert to my favorite position, hoping our hosts in the Jewish Center won't mind my putting my feet up.

Elvira Puccini
No notary and no Gubbio yet. Meaning it was quite tricky to stage mini processional on to the stage for Gianni/Buoso to dictate his will.  I and another fellow participated with our Pinellocchio, God bless him who comes a distance and never misses rehearsal. Still, we were crowded. I have them working in a (I hope please God) smaller space that we'll have deliberately. (You'd rather have too much booze than too little at Grampie's wake). Spinelloccio can only come late and since he's in part one only and we're working on part two.....well, I'm going to have to continue to adjust. god is good. So is zoloft..
Back to the other opera in town. Several of my key people are involved. What can I do? I'm the last one who would tell them to give up a paying gig.

Our baritone sings well and has the rare gift of singing with enough joy to enchant any audience. Many of the other singers are well prepared and fun. Some need work. I've been asked to save time in staging rehearsals for some  music touch ups. Withal, we've staged the whole thing, now its fine tuning, a few changes and eventually complete runs. Since there's so much physical action I need the singers to develop  muscle memory so their singing is not affected. I have asked for a brief meeting in the venue with as many as can attend.Even if a few show up, if they see the actual space it may offer better perspective.

Puccini by Mary-Jane Philips Matz
And how many directors do YOU know who send out a prop list for spoons, forks, dishes, a night cap and long johns? Take THAT Franco Zeffirelli!

I've been re- reading Mary Jane Philips- Matz's biography of Puccini. Her Verdi bio is the book of choice. No one in recent times has better documented this great composer. Puccini is a more friendly read and less scholarly. Matz makes good use of several very elderly people she met years ago who knew the composer. I wanted to interview her and mailed and e mailed and called and a week later read her obituary in the New York Times. She was pushing ninety. No one who loves Verdi or Puccini should miss her books. 

Puccini loved fast cars, women and hunting. He was quite the ladies man. His first serious girlfriend was the wife of another man. She and Puccini had a child together-scandalo!-and composer rued the day he took up with Elvira. Batshit crazy the lady was.

Hmmm. Maybe I can turn Ciesca or Nella into Elvira Gemignani Puccini. Scary!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Will Schwalbe and The End of Your Life Book Club

Wanna fall in love? You will, if you read Will Schwalbe's memoir of his mother's final years as she battled cancer. The End of Your Life Book Club is by no means a depressing book. It's not even sad, and I expect that's because Mrs. Mary Ann Schwalbe would not have it so.

Mary Ann Schwalbe
I get a lot of books every week, many of them memoirs and to not a few I sigh, "Who cares?" I cared about this one. It's one of the most life affirming books I've read in quite a while. It's about an adult son finding one more way to bond with his mother. Through books. And its about a remarkable lady who I am sure is in heaven re-arranging the clouds and helping others as I write and you read.

Will Schwalbe is one of three children of Douglas and Mary Ann Schwalbe. Mrs. Shwalbe had been an educator, administrator and in her later years a relentless advocate for refugees. If you've ever crowed about working through a headache, get over yourself. Mrs. Schwalbe worked through chemo building roads, schools and libraries in Afghanistan.
Will Schwalbe
Cambridge, Harvard to New York's Upper East Side. Enough to make my two toilet Irish heart groan. But I shut up and read and yup, I fell in love. Mrs.

Here's a conversation I had the other day with Will Schwalbe. He's riding a very successful book AND a terrific website dedicated to recipes and cooking, cookstr dot com. Will feeds your tummy. His mom will feed your soul.

CP: You've written  a book about your mother's final years, but you have not written a sad book, a depressing book, at all

WS: Thank you. I wanted it to be joyful.

CP: Tell us you about your mother. This was a very unique and busy lady

WS: She was. When I was growing up Mom was director of admissions at Radcliffe and Harvard, then she and my father moved back to New York City and she became an educator, then a college counselor, and head of a girls school. Then in her fifties she discovered the cause of refugees. She became the founding director of the first organization in the world devoted to specifically the cause of women and children  refugees. . She spent the next two decades traveling all over the world working on behalf of refugee women and children.

CP: When she was doing that you and your siblings were grown, is that right?
WS: That's right. We were all out of the house

CP: Do you think that's what empowered her to go in that direction, that the kids were gone?

WS: I think that was a big help. She was really galvanized by them, and if she had been exposed to refugees  as she almost accidentally was, in her fifties, she might have done something. But as far as taking on a position like that and really traveling all over the world , I think she would have waited.

CP: You and your mother connected over books. But ti strikes me you and she were never not connected

WS: We were very close. We did live for many years in different cities. We had the same kind of contact many adult children have with their parents, a phone call every couple of weeks. That said, we were always close. One of the things I really wanted to try to do with this book was to write a book that would resonate  with people who do happen to be close to their parents.  A lot of people have sadly had difficult and troubled relationships with their parents.  The memoir shelves are filled with those. But a lot of people were lucky enough to have wonderful relationships with their parents and to some degree I wanted to create A book for those people, too.

CP:  When your mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it struck me that she just have "I don't have time for this!"

WS:: (laughing) I wish I had used that because that's exactly it...It was the full range human emotions, from anger, sadness, despair and  hope.  But there was a big dose of annoyance there, too. She didn't have time for it. She had too much to do.

CP: How long after your mother's diagnosis did you two decide to have your own book club?

WS: She was diagnosed in October, and it was really the very first time I went to chemo with her in November  we started talking intensively about books..  It was at that time I joked that if we kept  "meeting like this" and talking about books it was like having a book club.

Mom's initial reaction was to say Oh, don't be silly . sweetie, we couldn't possible have a book club.
Date cupcakes form Will's web site:
I said why not and she said, Because there's no food!
She felt book clubs must have food!

CP:: Or at least booze!

WS: At least booze, exactly. I really should have had a flask in the chemo suite.

It began as a light hearted thing and it was only after time that we realized we really had a in a way created this two person book club.  We began to be more thoughtful about our conversations and the kind of books we read..

CP:: And you didn't necessarily agree on every book...

WS:: We really didn't. We had very different things we loved in books. I love books that are maximalist, like Dickens. Filled with characters and details and plots and everything that happens in the beginning comes back in the end.

My mother really loved sparer, more lyrical books, where the emphasis was more on prose than character.
A book like Marilyn Robinson's Gilead which was perhaps my mother's favorite  contemporary book. Mine was more like Rohinon Mistry's A Fine Balance.

CP: Did your relationship with your mother change as you pursued this book club, alongside her impending death?

WS: It deepened. It didn't change in its fundamentals. I got to see more of her. I knew my mother had a wonderful sense of humor, and I got to see more of it. I knew my mother was a brave person but I got to learn more about her bravery. I knew she was compassionate, and I got to see her theories of compassion and learn her rules for herself. It was getting to know someone better and I guess you could think meeting a slightly different person, too.

CP: What about your siblings?

WS: My brother lives outside of New York. My sister was offered a fantastic job in Switzerland, and after a lot of discussion she took the job but came back frequently to spend time with Mom.

CP: Did your siblings have bonds of their own with their mother. you had the book club, did they have something else with her, by themselves?

WS: My siblings are also voracious readers. I'd say the biggest difference is that both of my siblings have children. Had you asked my mother her greatest accomplishment and pleasure in life, she would have aid without hesitating, being a grandmother. I think that in some degree when my sister and brother were around my mom really wanted to talk about the grandchildren. When I was around her she also really wanted to talk about the grandchildren , but after I had exhausted the updates on my niece and nephews we would move on to books.

CP: You forged something special to you and mother. Just for the two of you. That's the heart of your book as I understand it.

WS: I was very careful to say in the start of the book that my brother and sister had equally deep and important conversations with my mother, but I really felt their stories were their stories to tell, not mine. I think a lot parents that I know have different relationships with each child that is unique to that child. '

CP: The most moving part of the book for me is when , not long before her death, your mother was honored at a dinner in New York. It was very effortful for her to attend , but you said that this woman with years of accomplishments in her life was taken aback by all the accolades

WS: It was very important to my mother in her refugee work that she always  push the refugee voices front and center. If ever there was an occasion to speak on behalf of the organization, Mom wanted it to be refugees. As an educator it was about children not about her . Yes, she was a woman of great accomplishment but she had always been a little bit in the wings, pushing other people out to the stage. She was very moved to be acknowledged in that way before she died.

CP: How was your father through all of this and how is he now?

WS:  One of the amazing things books did for mm and me was it gave us a way to talk about really difficult things. The subject of how my dad was going to fare after Mom's death was one of those things. We were reading a book called Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. Really one of the great books I've ever read.

The book had a character that is dying of cancer. I was able to say to my mother, Do you think that character's husband is going to be OK after she dies. And my mother was able to say Yes, he will be very sad, but he will be OK. And that's as close as my mother and I ever got to talking about how my father would do, and in fact that was exactly right. That's just what happened.

He's very proud of the book. He's very supportive of the book, He always knows where I am and who I'm talking to , but he doesn't want to talk about the content of the book. He basically says to people, That's my son's book.  

CP: Finally, is there one book you and your mother did not get to read together that's a regret?

WS: That's such a good question. I would say that as much as we talked about poetry, and we read poets like Mary Oliver , I wish we'd read more poetry together. I wish we had been able to talk about some of the poets she was re- reading . She spent a lot of time re- reading Robert Lowell. I didn't get to talk talk to her about Robert Lowell, and I really regret that.
CP: She probably knew Robert Lowell

WS:: She probably did...that whole circle Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop. She spent a lot of time re reading the poets she had read in her younger years in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I knew she was doing it and I wish I had talked to her about that.

CP: The only regret I have in your book is that I never met your mother. I think everyone who reads this book will feel the same way. This is a lady you would have loved ot have had in your life . Thank you.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Gianni Schicchi Diary pt. 2a Giuseppe de Luca

Giacomo Puccini (1856-1924)
You can go to all the language labs you want, take all the classes there are, spend your money, but if you're a singer wanting to learn beautiful Italian, go to the library and get recordings of Italian singers. Nothing is more beautiful than listening to Pavarotti sing Donizetti and Verdi. Tebaldi in anything. The great baritones Tito Gobbi and Ettore Bastianini.Bass Cesare Siepi.  Renata Scotto in Lucia or Traviata. Scotto was the diva of my operatic youth. You couldn't avoid her, and her voice was long shot. And yes, they'd flock to her today. Just a few lines of Mi chiamano Mimi were riveting.

Why do I harp on this? I don't like young singers being bilked for money. I've never been sold on the
Giuseppe de Luca
college/grad school route. Better to get a marketable degree and study voice, languages and theory on the side. Then try for the competitions and young artist's programs. If after several years nothing happens, start your own preforming organizations, conduct a choir for underprivileged kids and go make yourself a life in music. Tend bar or do IT during the day. No disgrace in any of these. The goal is to have a life in music and share that life with others.

Wow. Focus Christopher.

Giuseppe de Luca. He was the first Gianni Schicchi. You can lean so much about words and legato from him.

Giuseppe de Luca (1876-1940) sang well into his seventies. He came to the States in 1915 and three years later was the first Gianni Schicchi. He had created Sharpless in Madama Butterfly in 1907 and Michonnet in Adriana Lecouvreur in 1901, the latter with Caruso who he frequently partnered.

I'm not surprised to read raves about his singing in 1918, 1930, etc.
But in 1940 he made a comeback at the age of sixty-four.
He sang Germont in La traviata.

Giuseppe de Luca, the veteran baritone...stepped from the wings in the second act. It is not surprising that on receiving the thunderous tribute from the audience, it was hard for Mr. de Luca to control his features or summon the breath to sing. ...When he did open his mouth the first five notes made the pulses beat because of the art and the beauty of the song...The quality of the legato, the perfection of the style, the sentiment which ennobled the melodic phrase, struck the whole audience...

       Olin Downes, New York Times February 8 1940

(They really had critics then,didn't they? Olin Downes was no pushover)
de Luca sang Schicchi twenty -six times from the premiere in 1918 through 1934.  De Luca returned to Italy the following year and came back to New York in 1940. (I'm surprised Mussolini allowed him to leave)
Geraldine Farrar as Suor Angelica...unimpressed
By the way, Il tabarro disappeared after 1920 until 1946. Suor Angelica did not impress soprano Geraldine Farrar, who created the role. She and Caruso were the Met's biggest box office attraction. After she retired in 1922, Suor Angelica disappeared until Renata Scotto sang it in 1975.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gianni Schicchi Diary pt. 2

 Performances June 15 and 16
 More info:

Second staging rehearsal last night, in a different church basement (my church)  Not as fancy as before, and I had to collapse a boatload of tables and chairs to make room and haul the upright out of storage, but once set up we were good to go. I need to work on the disconnect between who's been cast to do what. Two roles still open. Spinelocio the doctor arrived late last night-a surprise to me and maybe to him as well. I wonder if Spineloccio can also sing the Notary.

Giuseppe de Luca, the first Gianni Schicchi
I hope I remember correctly that we will have more space to spread out in the theater than I have approximated in these church basements. Things are looking bunched up so far, but I'm confident that in the one night we have to rehearse in the theater I'll come up with attractive stage pictures. This is certainly an attractive cast. They catch on pretty quickly and they all remember the moves better than I do. That's the chore of being 25 years older than most of these good people. Thank God I'm getting out of the habit of calling them 'kids'

Giulioo Crimi created Luigi in Il tabarro and Rinuccio on the same night
So far I haven't been able to dig in to characterizations. I've spoken in general terms...Lauretta=Princess, Rinuccio=nice music but he's as nasty as his relatives (our tenor is such a nice guy I'm going to give him lessons in being an asshole) I haven't so far come up with enough for Nella, Ciesca, Gherardo, Marco and Betto. Gherardo is whipped; Nella is a shrew and it would be fun to spike up a little bitch competition between Nella and Zita. The latter's music I feel illustrates her nicely. I do want to avoid the old harridan stereotype. That's why I have Zita, Nella and Ciesca sexing up Gianni-and enjoying it-as they undress him and put him to bed. Oh, damn...we don't have a letto. We have a sedia. We're also going to have a problem if the stage platforms don't work out. Not that our conductor's backside isn't charming I'm sure but that's not what the audiences is paying for.

Florence Easton as Lauretta

There was an extended music rehearsal last night. I had forgotten how few rehearsals have been available thus far. This is a difficult score. It's 80% ensembles.

There's a lot of idiomatic Italian. (I'm wondering if we shoulda done in this in English...what with the attractive cast and the audience...Still in this world of titles our singers will never be asked to sing this in English)
I don't know if we'll have more than one orchestra rehearsal. Our pianist/conductor last night is another fine musician. He's really brilliant. He's down extensive work in this repertoire. I sat in on the music with nothing to do myself and learned a great deal.

 Gianni Schicchi world premiere, Metropolitan Opera, New York December 14, 1918

I've been wondering about the world premiere of Gianni Schicchi. Not the facts of it which I already know. But how it looked and sounded. Only one  of the principal singers in any of the the three Trittico operas recorded music from these works. There's no original cast Senza mamma from Geraldine Farrar; No Nulla! Silenzio! from Giuseppe de Luca...nothing of "E ben altro mio sogno with Giulo Crimi and the divine Claudia Muzio.

Muzio (1887-1937) is the one soprano other sopranos adored. She had a dark, haunting voice and was a reserved, melancholy figure. Diva Magda Olivero, now 103,  insists that Muzio "took poison" to end her own life. It is said she was broke at the end, and borrowed money from the Mafia to make the recordings for which she is best remembered today.

Florence Easton  (1882-1955) was the first Lauretta. She was a British soprano who sang Mozart, Puccini, Verdi and a great deal of Wagner. It's curious casting a Wagner soprano as Lauretta. Easton was a a good looking woman but hardly the petite soubrette type. She was a valued artist who never attained real stardom. It may be she was given Lauretta as a reward for distinguished service. That said, she's very impressive, and must have been a fine musician. She made the one 'original cast' recording"

Tenor Giulio Crimi (1885-1939) created  Luigi in Il tabarro and our buddy Rinuccio.  He made his debut at the Met in Aida one month before the Trittico premiere. The New York Times recorded a "thunderous ovation" for Crimi's Radames. He was the teacher of Tito Gobbi.

Giuseppe de Luca, the first Michele and Schicchi, was such a great artist I am going to save him for the next post.

Music rehearsal this Saturday. Next staging rehearsal next Tuesday.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Gianni Schicchi Diary, part 1 and VOICES

Robert Merrill
Renata Tebaldi and Franco Corelli

I'm in love with voices. I heard a lot of fine ones last night. It was the first staging rehearsal. We were locked put of the venue for about 20 minutes, this while a local reporter was hovering on the steps, waiting with us. Once we got to work it was great. We had to make do in a very nice choir room (tonight's venue is not as nice I'm sorry to say)

We had a new addition tonight, the young man playing Gherardino. He was sweet and fun and he'll probably walk out off the show, God bless him.

I also met our Marco, a young man who had done the role before. He asked if I wanted to see how it was done in Kent and I said NO. Too abruptly probably. I was in the moment. But really, I need to figure it out for myself.

Licia Albanese: Take risks!
I had to REALLY approximate the playing area. Most of it will be IN the theater not on the bit of stage we have. There was a lot of positioning and running around last night. We had our wonderful rehearsal pianist, thank God and me pacing and yelling and positioning. Years ago at OSU a somewhat hippy dippy guest director asked me "Do you have a lot of experience working with young people?" Well, yes, since before you were born I thought. "You handle them too much. It makes them uncomfortable." I don't get off on handling people but y'all shoulda seen Frank Corsaro or many other great directors, who thought nothing of flinging people into the wings if it made a good affect. Jeez.

Some confusion reigned but all of the singers 'got' what I was trying to do quicker than I did. I'm deeply impressed by the talents and professionalism of these young people. Many have kids, responsibilities, day jobs, other gigs and here they are at 9 pm rehearsing another-unpaid=performance.

I had wanted Schicchi to be more Donald Trump, arrogant and cool and we'll get there if I can get past he beauty of GS's voice. Lauretta immediately got princess ' concept-that she's not such a nice girl. Rinuccio's gonna be whipped, if you know what I mean. We'll work harder on giving each of the relatives a specific characterization.  Zita's got it. Simone pretty much. Rinuccio great, well tone down the OSU football hero stance-and this boy knows how to sell the notes. Nella and La Ciesca I need to think about. No Jewish mother. Too clingy. No Irish mother, too aloof. Italian mother, eat but with a menacing undertone (mangia idiote!)  Nella,  at least rules the roost. Gherardo is a husband typical for 1299 and typical for today. Sweet, responsible and clueless.

I think we listen to singers differently today. Until the early 1960s one on one listening was less adulterated. IPODS, APPS (I had to ask tho years ago what the hell is an app) we didn't listen while doing something else. This appointment listening is endangered./ Tough for me since a lot of my producing involves 'appointment' style programming. We had radio, TV and film of course, but people were still used to hearing great singers-or any singers, either live or with most of their attention tuned to the performance. Years ago I knew a voice teacher with some fine students, but her mantra was "too big too big". She wanted an Elisabeth Schumann style delicacy in everything, which is  fine if you're Elisabeth Schumann, but it ain't gonna help you sing Verdi. Most of us view today's technology as a blessing.  A few of us see it as a barrier. We are more about the technology that enables us to listen than experiencing what we are hearing. That's part of the reason oldsters say "Oh there' no voices today. you should have heard Tebaldi." I did and she was glorious. Her generation of singers were monsters. They sang without fear, straight out, go-to-hell no shortcuts, filled with courage. Do singers today do the same? Yes! But the voices seem smaller and less characterful. Today's most famous soprano is a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice but to me she's dull. The gift three notes are gorgeous and twenty minutes later so are the last one. There's no risk.

Tebaldi, Del Monaco, Stignani, Merrill, Warren, Tucker, Callas all planted themselves on stage and sang and sang. They loved their own voices, the knew the texts and they cared about what they were doing. The audience sensed this. Many singers today are no different but we  hear them differently and they hear themselves differently--ears have been readjusted, diluted if you will, by smaller attention spans and technology


I tell singers today. Sing! Don' be afraid! Take risks! In an interview elsewhere on this blog, Licia Albanese told me, "I tell young singers make mistakes! Take risks and use the text!" This from Toscanini's Mimi and Violetta (still going strong today at 100) 

I also think some current teachers either distrust a student with a big voice or don't know what to do with it.
Because a huge voice in the current technology may be thought vulgar. (When the hell is opera not vulgar. Do you think the Count was trying to draw Susanna a picture?)  Don't forget. You are STILL singing primarily for the live audience.In a 3,000 seat house, less is not more. More is more.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Gianni Schicchi Diary: Introduction

 It's my custom to keep a diary when working outside the studios, so welcome to The Gianni Schicchi Diary! 

The good people at Opera Project Columbus have asked me to direct their production of Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. Tonight is the first staging rehearsal.
This one act delight is Puccini's only comedy. It is part of three one act operas (Il trittico-The Triptych) the world premier of which was given in New York at the Metropolitan Opera n December 14, 1918. The world was in the mood to celebrate one month after the armistice was signed.

Giuseppe DeLuca , the first Gianni Schicchi
Il tabarro and Suor Angelica were qualified successes. Gianni Schicchi was a bona fide hit. W.J. Henderson, dean of music critics for the New York Times, was gentle with the first two operas but called GS "one of the most delightful bits every put on the opera stage".

The libretto is by Gioacchino Forzano. The basis is an episode, a few lines really, from Dante's Divina Commedia. In the XXX canto, we encounter Gianni Schicchi, who had advised Simone, relative of Buoso Donati on amending an unsatisfactory will. In so doing, Schicchi is consigned by Dante to hell. Some of this story reflects Dante's own antipathy toward the 'peasant class' and especially of his wife's family, the Donati.

What's not to love with this 45 minute opera? You get a deliciously nasty family, a dead guy on stage for much of the action, a 'peasant', his daughter who sings a big hit:

"Un Donati sposare un figlia di villano?! cries Simone, the elder of the family.
A Donati, to marry the daughter of a peasant?!
That's just one of several great lines in this opera.

Splendida Firenze!

When the will is found and read leaving all of Buoso's property to the monks, his cousin Zita, a hateful old lady grumbles:

Ch l'avrrebe mai detto che quando Buoso andava al cimitero si sarebbe pianto per daverro!
Who could have told that once Buoso went to the cemetery, we'd be crying for real!

Gianni Schicchi arrives with his daughter Lauretta. She's usually portrayed as a sweet, innocent girl. I think she's more of a princess. Daaaaaadddy!

Schicchi's first line is one of my favorites in all opera:

Quale aspetto sgomenta e desolato
Buoso Donati certo e migliorato

What a lot of sad looks
Buoso Donati must be getting better

 I've directed Suor Angelica and yes.  I loved it and yes I cried,  nice Catholic boy that I am.
But now we get down and dirty, and we have fun. Newsflash: Opera can be fun!

Opera Project Columbus was formed to give local singers an opportunity to perform. We have a terrific cast
Alessandro Siciliani. Opera can be fun!
for this production: attractive, talented and a world class baritone for the tile role. And our conductor?
Alessandro Siciliani, former music director of the Columbus Symphony, veteran of the New York City Opera and the Met, not forgetting a slew of Italian opera houses. Alessandro is  Florentine himself. Watching him dart around at rehearsal coaching the Italian texts has been the joy of my late spring. He gets all of the inflection and double meanings unavailable at first to non native speakers.

The big challenge of this staging is not musical, its the venue. We have a small stage, and no pit. With the orchestra onstage we're going to use the house more than the stage. You may be sitting next to Rinuccio as he pours out his love for Lauretta, or Simone or Zita as they scheme away Buoso's money. Gianni Schicchi might pick your pocket.

Performances June 15 and 16.
Check back here for more dish.
First staging rehearsal is tonight.