Saturday's performance of Genesius Guild's and Opera @ Augustana's Gianni Schicchi was rained out, which presented a dilemma: Do I act responsibly and attend and review Sunday's performance instead, or do I make an excuse so that I can watch the season finale of Game of Thrones? I chose the former, and while it was difficult to avoid spoilers from what I hear was a shocking finale, I do not regret attending the opera instead.
Unfortunately, I did mistakenly see an online reference to a Game of Thrones character dying at the episode's end (though I'm still not sure who), and interestingly, in Gianni Schicchi, a character dies at the very beginning, setting up its plot about a group of siblings and cousins hoping for a sizable inheritance. When they discover that Buoso Donati (Dan Baldwin, in a silent but funny performance) left everything to a group of local friars, his family enlists the help of Gianni Schicchi (the utterly charming Nathan Windt) to figure out how to work around the will and get what's coming to them. That's the entirety of the narrative in Puccini's hour-long comic opera, and as it's sung here in English, even my partner's 11-year-old daughter had no trouble following the story, and laughed quite often along the way.
In director John Pfautz's presentation, there's certainly plenty to laugh about. While there is a lot of aimless milling about on stage, there are also bits and pieces that the actors add to up the hilarity ante. For Michael Callahan's Betto, who is Buoso's brother-in-law, these include his examining silver pieces as if he's simply admiring them before slyly slipping them into a pocket or under his shirt. With Jonathan Schrader's Marco and Kristan Mitchell's La Ciesca - Buoso's son and daughter-in-law, respectively - the bits include the characters' looks and countenances, as costume designer Rowan Crow has them in hippy get-ups that inspire a greatly amusing, mellow 1970s vibe from the performers. Anita Cook uses scowls and frowning facial contortions to render cousin Zita's condescension as comical.
What, though, would an opera be without singing? While all of Gianni Schicchi's cast members are in fine voice, a few, in particular, stand out. Among them is Erik Wilson, who portrays Zita's nephew Rinuccio. Playing the young man in love with Gianni's daughter Lauretta (Alicia Lumberry), Wilson's tenor vocals are clear and full, and while Wilson isn't a naturally comedic actor and it shows, his poise and singing go a long way toward endearing him as a romantic lead. Lumberry shines vocally as she performs the most well known aria from Puccini's opera, "O mio babbino caro," which here is translated as "Oh My Beloved Father." Wilson and Lumberry also share some gorgeous duets, harmonizing with goosebump-inducing beauty. Windt, however, shines brightest, with his rich baritone blended with a characterization filled with charisma, moxie, and superb comic delivery.
Accompanied by an exceptional ensemble of musicians and set against scenic designer Andy Gutshall's layered bedroom creation, Genesius Guild's and Opera @ Augustana's Gianni Schicchi is, in my book, a tremendous success and one not to miss. And thanks to the production's clear deliveries in English and its simple plot, there's no reason to shy away from a performance for fear of struggling to understand an opera.
Gianni Schicchi runs at Lincoln Park (11th Avenue & 38th Street, Rock Island) June 20 and 21 at 8 p.m., and more information is available by visiting Genesius.org.