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Puccini’s ‘Gianni Schicchi’ comes to Lamar by way of Jersey

What do Snooki, Tony Soprano and Dante’s “Divine Comedy” all have in common? They are all elements that inspired Lamar Opera Theatre’s update of “Gianni Schicchi,” a one-act farce based on an incident in Dante's epic poem. The opera will be performed in its original Italian, with English subtitles, at 7:30 p.m. March 30-31 in the Rothwell Recital Hall.

With music composed by Giacomo Puccini and libretto by Giovacchino Forzano, “Gianni Schicchi” premiered in 1918 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Perhaps best known for the soprano aria, "O mio babbino caro (Oh, my dear Papa)," the intelligent, dark comedy, is the third of Puccini's trilogy of one-act operas.

 “‘Gianni Schicchi’ is the comic relief in Puccini's trilogy of operas,” said Serdar Ilban, director of Lamar Opera Theatre, and visiting assistant professor of voice in the Mary Morgan Moore Department of Music. “It offers a clever examination of the diverse feelings and reactions from a family confronted with the demise of their wealthy patriarch.”

The hero of the opera is based on a Florentine character immortalized by Dante, who placed Schicchi in the 30th canto of his Inferno (Hell), which was reserved for frauds. The story, originally set in 13th-century Florence, Italy, but moved to Florence, New Jersey, in the late 1990s for Lamar’s production, follows the family of Buoso Donati, an extremely wealthy man who dies and leaves his fortune to the local monks. The family begs the cunning Schicchi to help them procure Donati's fortune, and hijinks ensue.

“It's a very intelligent and witty story of greed and love,” said Ilban. “Also, this show, in particular, lends itself very well to modernization. I chose New Jersey as our backdrop because of the mafioso connection. The original idea for my adaptation came from the television show ‘The Sopranos,’ with some character ideas borrowed from ‘Jersey Shore.’ The audience makes an instant connection with these pop-culture icons, and it helps them relate to the show.”

Adam Piper, of Chesapeake, Va., will perform the title role of Gianni Schicchi. Natalie Cardona, Beaumont, plays his daughter Lauretta for the Friday-night performance, while Laramie Gilbert, Beaumont, takes on the part for Saturday, with Brooke Gipson, Baytown, as understudy for the role. In total, the production will feature the work of nearly 30 Lamar students, either in the cast or behind the scenes.

“I chose the opera because it's a large ensemble piece that affords a lot of our students a chance to perform,” said Ilban. “The process of preparing this production began last October with auditions, and everyone in the cast worked in various capacities to bring Puccini's comic masterpiece to life.”

The opera is one hour long with no intermission. Adjunct faculty member Roger Keele provides musical direction for the production.

Rothwell Recital Hall is in the Music Building on the campus of Lamar. General admission is $10, and tickets should be reserved in advance. For tickets or more information, call the Mary Morgan Moore Department of Music at (409) 880-8144.

“I think audiences will greatly enjoy this dark comedy,” said Ilban. “They will definitely laugh, and, above all, the music is superbly composed.”