It is September 1st, 1299, in Florence, and Buoso Donati has just breathed his last. Well, a rich man in those days probably wasn’t subject to a post-mortem, but here the audience was provided with a witty, informative and wryly articulated forensic musical dissection of aspects of Puccini’s marvellously melodic and comedic score by conductor Tom Seligman for 30 minutes before a full concert performance of the opera. With examples of musical interest played by small sections of the orchestra we got a reasonably detailed run-through the plot, introduction of the performers in their roles (including Felix Davis’s sparky Gherhardino who thus got to sing his two lines twice), thematic and other musical aspects and jokes to watch or listen out for. With all parties in close proximity, this was a fun immersive informative community experience.
Wonderful that intrepid youngsters could, in the short break, go and try out instruments – one small football-shirted young man showing interest and flair in the harp. Seligman was perfect at holding the interest and explaining Puccini’s score in a vividly accessible way. The full performance was conducted with brio and élan. The players, dressed informally but all wearing clothes flashing the red and white colours of the Florentine flag, played with gusto and character – and one could, despite the largish forces playing in a relatively confined space, catch an amazing amount of the detail. Highlighted aspects of the orchestral writing that often pass unnoticed here had their moments in the spotlight; for example, the depiction of the birdcalls and Lauretta’s sprinkling of bird food out on the balcony or the contents of Buoso’s chamber-pot.
But, opera is about the voices and acting – and a strongly cast and youthful ensemble delivered the goods. Although most were holding scores Seumas Begg was the notable exception, they were all generally inside their roles and more engaged in the drama and the comedy than the music on the page. As the eponymous character, Andrew Mayor’s supple baritone was heard to advantage, and he articulated the text extremely well and characterfully. Given that Schicchi engages with the audience at the end, one could argue that Mayor’s performance could have exploited his closeness to the audience even more than he did. Lauren Lodge-Campbell’s limpid yet expansively sung Lauretta had a nicely winsome quality and blended well with Seumas Begg’s excitingly voiced Rinuccio. The repellently avaricious members of the Donati family were well differentiated too – Jessica Gillingwater’s fearsomely imperious Zita and Adam Maxey’s trenchant Simone making their mark stongly. The blend of the Gillingwater, Philippa Boyle and Emma Lewis trio of voices was as lush as one could hope for. James Gribble managed a versatile doubling of doctor and lawyer. All the cast infected the text with cohesivity and clarity; the lack of surtitles passed by unnoticed. An engaging, educational and exciting exposition of a great work by a fine charity.