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A double bill is currently at The Dutch National Opera with Eine florentinische Tragödie (A Florentine tragedy) by Alexander von Zemlinsky and Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini.
In 2012 at the Puccini Plus Festival, the opera of Lyon combined Zemlinsky’s Florentine tragedy with Giacomo Puccini’s Florentine comedy. The opera of Amsterdam takes up this idea and entrusts the stage direction to Jan Philipp Gloger.
A double Florentine program
The idea of combining the two works is interesting: the plots take place in Florence, they were composed during the same period (1916 and 1917-18) and both refer to the greedy enriched bourgeoisie.
Both operas are inspired by literature: on the one hand, the play by Oscar Wilde (which Puccini had also taken into consideration), and on the other hand, a historical figure (Gianni Schicchi de Cavalcanti) mentioned in Dante’s Hell, condemned for impersonating Buoso Donati.
A dark and distressing dream
The orchestra attacks the ouverture of Eine florentinische Tragödie, the lights make us discover a tray floating across, imagined by Raimund Voigt.
Guido and Bianca are on stage in their underwear, playing, chasing, kissing, undressing and making love passionately, while the 18-metre set starts turning.
During one of these tours, a man gets on board: Simone, Bianca’s husband, back from the market. He surprises the lovers dressing up, but acts as if nothing ever happened.
Once discovered the identity of the man, he takes advantage of it to sell him clothes, which Guido accepts offering to pay even more.
Glover chooses not to portray Simone as an old man, nor as a greedy man, but rather as someone who gives himself body and soul to his work, whose poetic vein emerges when presenting his merchandise.
An expressive and convincing set
John Lundgren embodies perfectly this strong and virile man, also through his dark, powerful and dramatic voice of baritone. Nikolai Schukoff stands out for the smoothness of his fine tenor voice and his brilliant interpretation of a vain and spoiled Guido Bardi, for whom Bianca is only one of his many conquests.« His heart beats but at the price of wool«
Among the two men stands Bianca, forsaken by her husband and lured by the Prince of Florence. Ausrine Stundyte embodies this resentful and tormented woman, to whom her dark voice and her committed playing add dramatic intensity.
Zemlinsky’s expressionist music is sublimated by the sharp shadows that plunge the scene into a black and white realm that makes us question reality.
Did Simone and Bianca, who looks at her lover being choked without saying anything, plan everything? Or does Simone pretend to forgive his wife and end up killing her?
New rich and crocodile tears
A new feud awaits us in the second Florentine episode presented at the Dutch National Opera, but this time in a rather ironic and light-minded spirit.
The old Buoso Donati is in his deathbed, wearing the elegant dressing gown Simone wanted to sell to Guido in Zemlinsky’s opera. Another detail which links the two operas is that on the doors of Buoso’s bedroom there are two inscriptions in Italian: »His soul stands ever in the market-place » and « His heart beats but at the price of wool » from Oscar Wilde’s text.
An improbable group of people fills the room: Zita, the matron of the Donati clan in a Chanel suit, played by an energetic and determined Enkelejda Shkosa, and Simone, embodied by an entertaining and convincing Carlo Cigni.
Other close relations include the compelling couple consisting of Marco (Mikheil Kiria) and La Ciesca (Ana Ibarra), newly rich, dressed in hunting and horseback riding outfits, and Bouso’s poor brother-in-law Betto di Signa (a dreary and shabby Umberto Chiummo).
Then follows the vulgar Gherardo (well performed by a Saverio Fiore dressed with a jacket opened on a pink shirt), his trophy-wife Nella (an Adriana Ferfecka perfect in the role, with her mini dress, her vertiginous heels and her trendy bag) and their spoiled son Gherardino (Claudio García Dueñaz), mesmerized by his cell phone.
The family eagerly awaits the death of the old man in order to lay their hands on his rich heritage. When this finally happens, they all pretend to cry, say clichés and pretend to support each other in pain. Only little Gherardino reminds them of the reality, with his mobile phone ringing and distracting the family from their « sorrow ».
But Buoso’s will carries bad news: the old man left everything to the Friars. The family is in despair, and this time their tears are true: « Who would have imagined that at Buoso’s death, we would have cried for real! » says Zita.
The young Rinuccio takes matters into his own hands and suggests to use Gianni Schicchi’s trickery to solve the issue of inheritance. In his Firenze è come un albero fiorito Alessandro Scotto di Luzio shows his strong and brilliant voice of tenor and his talent for acting.
Gianni Schicchi, master of puppets
Gianni Schicchi, dressed as a redneck, a checkered shirt open on a Metallica Master of Puppets’ t-shirt (as if by chance!), gets on stage accompanied by his daughter Lauretta, with whom Rinuccio is in love.
Being bullied by the bourgeois family who despises him (the Donati cover their noses and protect the chair where he sits with a scarf), he is ready to leave, but his daughter convinces him to stay, with the famous air Oh, mio babbino caro.
Mariangela Sicilia interprets this « tube » in full coherence with the story, and adds a little comic vein to it, pretending to throw herself into the Arno on a painting behind her. Her voice is neat and pleasant and her playing honest and appropriate.
With confidence and composure, Gianni Schicchi takes charge of the situation and offers to impersonate old Buoso to dictate a new will, more favourable to the family.
Then follows a hilarious scene where all the characters try to seduce Schicchi in order to get the best part of the inheritance : the three women, including the septuagenarian Zita, throw themselves on the bed, undress and make sexual advances to him, spurred on by the men.
Schicchi, perfectly performed by a charismatic and ambiguous Massimo Cavalletti, who fascinates us with his broad and vigorous voice, manages to fool everyone : the doctor Maestro Spinelloccio (by an amusing and out of his gourd Matteo Peirone), the notary Ser Amantio di Nicolao (embodied by the highly plausible Tomeu Bibiloni, with his beautiful and clear tone) and the whole Donati family. In the end, the deceased’s best assets go to « his devoted friend… Gianni Schicchi »!