Brown Opera Productions' fall show, "Gianni Schicchi," left audience members in stitches after its three performances in Alumnae Hall Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The 60-minute Italian operetta tells the tale of the greedy Donati family, which desperately elicits the help of con man Gianni Schicchi after finding out the recently deceased Buoso Donati did not leave a single possession to his relatives.
The operetta begins with the Donatis' shrieks and wails as they gather around the bedridden and now-lifeless body of Buoso (Mike Hogan '11). But their tears quickly run dry when they hear word of a scandalous rumor suggesting that Buoso has left the entire contents of his will to the monks of the local monastery. Chaos ensues as the family searches frantically for the will — eventually found by cousin Zita's (Madeline Sall '13) nephew Rinuccio (Andrew Wong '11) — and the rumor is proven true.
Rinuccio then implores his relatives to seek the aid of Schicchi, whose daughter Lauretta (Kathryn Cohen '13) he intends to marry. But the snobby Donatis initially want nothing to do with the common Schicchis, which is apparent when Gianni (Joe Rim '12) and Lauretta arrive at the Donati residence, and an all-out operatic battle breaks out between the families.
Gianni eventually agrees to help the Donatis and concocts a plan to impersonate the late Buoso and draft a new will with his lawyer (Alvin Kerber '11), as no one outside the family is aware that Buoso died. All the family members inform Gianni of what they'd like to be left in the new will. But the beneficiaries of three hot-ticket items — the house, a mill and a prized mule — are left to his discretion. To the Donatis' shock and horror, Gianni awards them to himself, and the operetta ends with him chasing the family out of what is now his house.
Rebecca Maxfield '13, who was originally cast in the show but ended up directing it after the original director fell ill, made the production extremely interactive. Her concept for the show "very heavily involved sort of putting the show among the audience, or in the middle of the audience," she said. Sitting in the audience often felt like sitting in old Buoso Donati's bedroom, as the Donatis' various visitors ambled in and out of scenes through the center of the aisle. The thrust of the stage also served as a focal point for much of the show's action, placing actors as close to audience members as possible.
Maxfield also effectively played off what she cited as the production's "physical comedy," and many of the show's funniest moments came not from the actors' lines, but from their movements and expressions: eyes open so wide in shock that they seemed ready to fall out at any moment, exaggerated and over-the-top hand gestures and Rim's springy bouncing across the stage as he channeled the havoc-wreaking Gianni.
"I kind of wanted to bring a little bit more of a youthful energy to him," Rim told The Herald. In his first operatic performance at Brown, he didn't disappoint. Rim's Gianni was dynamic and lively, funneling exuberance into a role that he said is usually given "to really old Italian dudes after they've ruined their voices."
Sall also stood out in her performance as Buoso's elderly and feisty cousin Zita, whom she played hilariously, without provoking the skepticism so often experienced when a college sophomore attempts to play a woman three times her age.
In regards to vocal performances, Wong and Cohen both hit the high notes, particularly during Rinuccio and Lauretta's love-struck solos.
Though the acting and singing overall left something to be desired — presumably due to the fact that the members of the cast had varying levels of opera experience, and some had never done opera before — the production was ultimately well done.
Maxfield and Rim both said they hoped the production would cause audience members to re-think their conceptions of opera. "I hope that those of them who are skeptical about opera are moved to reexamine that skepticism," Maxfield said.
"My biggest hope is that they come out of the production thinking opera isn't this stuffy old thing," Rim said.
"Gianni Schicchi" was certainly anything but stuffy and old. Hilarious and entertaining, the operatic tour de force proved to be a short and sweet weekend break.