This DVD is taken from the 2015 revival of Woody Allen’s production of Gianni Schicchi for LA Opera (the film director’s only opera staging), first seen in 2008, with Thomas Allen apparently excellent as the lead. Its main attraction now is the then 74-year-old Plácido Domingo, LA Opera’s founder and general director, in the title-role, and he spivs up marvellously as a Mafia-style wide-boy who steals the devious, hypocritical, generally loathsome Donati family’s inheritance from under their noses. Italian verismo cinema from the 1950s inspires the hectically detailed set-design, set against a back-projection of Florence, and besides Domingo’s chalk-striped Schicchi there are other Italian stereotypes galore. The direction is just as hyper-active to fit the hour-long opera’s slapstick, and the various relatives of the Donati clan all make their mark.
Domingo’s comic skills may be rather broad-brush but he does it with immense energy – and then he went on to conduct Pagliacci, the other work in the double-bill. The baritone end of his voice tends to disappear and he relies heavily on a declamatory style, but the audience was lapping it up. There is a fine and fiercely matriarchal Zita from the imposing Meredith Arwady, every inch and curve the formidable head of the family. Arturo Chacón-Cruz looks the part of pretty-boy Rinuccio, but his tenor lacks character and Italianate passion, but his fiancée Lauretta (Schicchi’s daughter) is performed very sexily by Andriana Chuchman – her ‘O mio babbino caro’ is not only beautifully sung as the standout aria but also registers strongly in the drama as she pleads with her father, giving him more justification to swindle his future in-laws. There’s a solidly sung and strongly characterised Simone from Craig Colclough, and Peabody Southwell’s Dolce Vita-style, bosomy La Ciesca wiggles and pouts deliciously.
Grant Gershon indulges his singers with great tact while never losing sight of how skillfully Puccini has crafted the score. I only have two misgivings – the first, minor one are the larky pre-curtain-up credits to jaunty Italian accordion music of things like ‘Regio – Tonio Salmonella’ starring people such as Oriana Fellatio and Luigi Impetigo, but that’s Woody Allen for you, such a fun guy; the second is a bizarre and total misreading of the opera when right at the end Zita, in full Fury mode, comes back and stabs Schicchi. The filming quality is one notch up from being just a record of a staging and the sound is adequate, but there is nothing HD about either.