Woody Allen’s enormous film oeuvre is many things, but “operatic” is probably not among them. So, critics have been tickled by their own conclusion that Allen’s new production of a Puccini opera isn’t half bad.
“Gianni Schicchi,” the tale of a swindler who impersonates the deceased Buoso Donati in order to change the dead man’s will, is now playing at Los Angeles Opera, along with the other two one-act operas that make up Puccini’s “Il Trittico” trilogy. (Another film director, William Friedkin, was put in charge of “Il Tabarro” and “Suor Angelica.”)
Allen’s take on “Gianni Schicchi” channels “the backstreets of post-war Naples more than the medieval Florence of the libretto,” the Daily Telegraph of London’s Rupert Christiansen writes. Like other reviewers, Christiansen was mostly a fan but objected to Allen’s choices at the beginning and end of the opera: It “gets off to a ghastly start” when credits roll for fake Italian actors, like “Oriana Fellatio,” and it departs from Puccini’s ending by killing off Schicchi, the opera’s anti-hero. (Leave it to Allen to put a sour spin on opera buffa.)
But “it was great to hear an audience laughing and applauding with such unaffected enthusiasm,” Christiansen writes, while Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed effuses, “A production of genius, his ‘Gianni Schicchi’ is a riot.” Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times calls it “a cleverly updated and inventive staging.”
Not a bad side gig for a director who recently told Minneapolis’s Star Tribune that, having set his past few movies in England and Spain, he finally has become what he always wanted to be: “a foreign filmmaker.”