BWW Review: LA VIDA BREVE/GIANNI SCHICCHI at Adelaide Town Hall

BWW Review: LA VIDA BREVE/GIANNI SCHICCHI at Adelaide Town Hall

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Wednesday 30th August 2017.

State Opera of South Australia is presenting a wonderful double bill with La Vida Breve, by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), and Gianni Schicchi, by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924). Both operas are conducted by Brian Castles-Onion, with La Vida Breve directed by Nicholas Cannon, and Gianni Schicchi directed by Douglas McNicol, both of whom are regular and popular performers with State Opera. McNicol also sings the titular role. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra provides the music and some members of the State Opera Chorus are also involved, with some of Adelaide's most popular singers appearing in these two works.

In La Vida Breve (The Brief Life), the beautiful gypsy, Salud, finds it hard to believe that her upper-class lover, Paco, is sincere. She then discovers that he is planning to marry a younger rich woman of his own class, Carmela. Salud appears at the wedding and confronts him, but Paco denies knowing her and orders her to be removed, at which she falls dead at his feet.

Soprano, Giséle Blanchard, is truly magnificent as the ill-fated Salud, filling the role with all of the passion that this Andalusian opera deserves. She takes us from the height of euphoria in the arms of Paco, to the depths of despair when she is told of his betrayal. Brenton Spiteri balances the pairing very well as Paco, in this production allowing us to have a degree of sympathy for him as he is making it clear that Paco is entering an arranged marriage and would rather be with Salud, if class differences would only permit it.

Another of her fine performances, as Salud's grandmother, La Abuela, adds to Elizabeth Campbell's sensitive and insightful characterisations, while Pelham Andrews, as Tio Sarvaor, Salud's grand-uncle, exudes power and strength, his anger at Paco almost tangible.

Desiree Frahn is superb as the innocent object of Salud's sadness, Carmela, lost in her own joy at her wedding and reacting with shock and disbelief as the events unfold. Carmela's brother, Manuel, is sung by Jeremy Tatchell in a forceful performance as he tries to keep Paco in line and keep his past from Carmela.

The role of the Flamenco singer, Cantaor, who sings at the wedding along with the Flamenco dancers, Thomas Arroquero, Areti Boyaci, and Hayley Kollevris, and guitarist, Werner Neumann, is sung by Andrew Turner, looking and sounding as authentic as one could wish.

Beau Sandford is imposing as The Voice of the Forge, a sort of Greek chorus, lamenting the life of the poor and commenting on the action, foreshadowing the events to come. Sara Lambert, Fiona McArdle, and Norbert Hohl add colour as street-sellers.

Nicholas Cannon has done a fine job with creating a powerful work with the minium of props, set pieces, and space, having only a small strip across the front of the stage in front of the orchestra and the seated chorus in which to stage the work. The orchestra, in both operas, responds marvellously to Brian Castles-Onion's clear musical direction, reminding us again how lucky we are to have the great musicians here in Adelaide.

Gianni Schicchi is a comic opera in which Buoso Donato dies, to the delight of the Donati family who cannot wait to get their hands on his fortune. When they see his will, though, they discover he has left everything to the local monastery. They call on Gianni Schicchi to impersonate the deceased and forge a new will, in their favour, but he has other ideas. Alongside all of this skulduggery runs the love story of Lauretta and Rinuccio.

As the director, Douglas McNicol has managed to utilise the small space well, with quite a lot of furniture on stage. He has also eked out every bit of the comedy in this opera. In the role of Gianni Schicchi he is hilariously conniving as he turns the tables on the corrupt Donati family, to arrive at a happy ending for those who deserve it.

Apart from the central role, this is largely an ensemble piece, with the Donati family equal in importance. That said, there are a few important moments. Schicchi's daughter, Lauretta, is sung by Desiree Frahn who stops the show with that most famous of Puccini's arias, O mio babbino caro (Oh, my dear papa). Brenton Spiteri plays a far more constant lover in this opera as Rinuccio, whose main object is to marry Lauretta. Unlike the rest of his family, who only care about getting hold of the best parts of the fortune, he simply wants his aunt Zita to have enough money that she will then, as she has promised, allow him to marry Lauretta.

Zita, Elizabeth Campbell, Gherardo, Norbert Hohl, Nella, Giséle Blanchard, Betto Di Signa, Pelham Andrews, Simone, Joshua Rowe, Marco, Jeremy Tatchell, and La Ciesca, Fiona McArdle, are the scheming relatives, and they all throw themselves into the silliness of the work, much to the delight of the audience. The brief role of the seven-year-old son of Gherardo and Nella, Gheradina, gives Rachel McCall a chance to draw forth a few visually inspired laughs with the aid of a selfie stick and a spinner. David Cox, Daniel Goodburn, Greg John, Rodney Kirk, and Chris Mills complete this excellent cast.

Sadly, there are only two performances, the other being on Thursday 31st August, so you will have to hurry to catch this terrific night out.

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Barry Lenny Born in London, Barry was introduced to theatre as a small boy, through being taken to see traditional Christmas pantomimes, as well as discovering jazz and fine music at a very young age. High school found him loving the works of Shakespeare, as well as many other great playwrights, poets and novelists. Moving to Australia, he became a jazz musician, playing with big bands and his own small groups, then attended the Elder Conservatorium of Music at the University of Adelaide, playing with several orchestras. This led to playing in theatre pits, joining the chorus, playing character roles, playing lead roles (after moving into drama), then directing, set and lighting design, administrative roles on theatre boards and, finally, becoming a critic. After twenty years of writing he has now joined the Broadway World team to represent Adelaide, in South Australia. Barry is also a long time member of the prestigious Adelaide Critics Circle.