Monday, September 2, 2019



Cavalleria Rusticana Composed by Giacomo Puccini. Libretto by Giovacchino Forzano  and Gianni Schicchi. Composed by Pietro Mascagni. Libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and GuIdo Menasci .

Sung in English. Directed by Kate Millett. Musical direction by Colleen Rae-Gerrard and Michael Politi. Conducted by Louis Sharpe. Belconnen Community Theatre. August 20-Setember 1 2019.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

A visit to Canberra Opera’s closing performance of its 2019 production turned out to be a delightful Father’s Day treat. The company had wisely chosen to present a contrasting double bill in the intimate Belconnen Community Theatre. It proved to be the ideal choice to highlight the fine voices of the singers without challenging their limitations.
The Canberra Opera cast of Gianni Schicchi
Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi , directed with a light and witty touch by Kate Millett and played with a joyful air of fun by the small and excellent orchestra under the skilful baton of conductor Louis Sharpe, proved the perfect curtain raiser with this thoroughly enjoyable comic opera. Loosely based on an incident in Dante’s Inferno and given a mischievous treatment by Puccini and his librettist Giovacchino Forzano. Gianni Schicchi exposes the hypocrisy and avarice of relatives gathered at the hospital deathbed of Buoso Donati, a wealthy Florentine. In an attempt to sort out the matter of a will, nephew Rinuccio (Alastair Colgrave) invites the father of his beloved Lauretta (Hannah Carter) to intervene and solve any argument over the will. Enter the eponymous Gianni Schicchi (Colin Milner), a vision of Florentine Il Padrone, complete with Stetson, boots and gold chain around the neck. With skilful guile and a rich, consuming baritone voice, Milner spins a devious web of deceit to secure the bulk of the legacy for himself and a dowry for his daughter and her betrothed. Director Millet keeps the action flowing, the trickery surprising and the final acclamation of Schicchi jubilant, leaving the audience with an uplifting feeling during Rinuccio and Lauretta’s duet, Lauretta Mine, Here Will We Always Stay . Puccini’s talent for melodic composition populates this relatively unknown and clownish Comedy Buffo with popular arias, duets and solos. The opera’s small and comically motley ensemble sing with gusto and conviction. Most notable arias are Lauretta’s pleading Oh, my dear Papa, sung with exquisite charm by Hart,  Rinnucio’s You’re Mistaken followed Florence Is Like A Blossoming Tree and Schicchi’s   cautionary and authoritative A Final Word Of Warning. Milner’s obvious acting skills and powerful singing voice  lend his performance of Schicchi auspicious impact. Appealing to the ear, pleasing to the eye and wonderfully entertaining, Gianni Sccicchi proved a most pleasant and memorable offering by Canberra Opera.

Anna Greenwood as Santuzza, James Penn as Turridu
Veronica Thwaites-Brown as Lola and Andrew Barrow
As Alfio in Canberra Opera’s Cavalleria Rusticana
While the discerning spectator might kindly accept the fact that most of the cast are not trained actors, there can only be applause for the singing and the excellent orchestration under Sharpe’s lively conducting and Michael Politi’s musical direction. As the tormented outcast, Santuzza, Greenwood gives a moving and entirely believable performance. Her duet with Turridu scales the lofty ideal of the tragic opera.  James Penn’s powerful tenor voice plumbs the depths of intensity. Unfortunately, diction is barely discernible and downcast eyes avoid the impact of interaction. He plays at being an opera singer, rather than the character of a man full of his own importance and subsumed by ego and immoral action. With actor training and his wonderful tenor voice, Penn is certainly a singer with a promising future. Similarly baritone Andrew Barrow, whose diction was fine enough needs to be confident with his talent, which is considerable. With the two bloodstained combatants appearing before a dismayed and shocked congregation of villagers, Mascagni brings this dark and moralistic piece to a fitting close .
Canberra Opera has shown with this double bill that a low budget production need not be a sign of mediocrity. Although I may have quibbles with the general paucity of acting expertise, I was entirely drawn into the conviction and the musical and vocal talent of the company. Standouts would be Milner’s Gianni Schicchi and Greenwood’s Santuzza, but with only half the stage for Millett to work on while Sharpe and his musicians occupied the other half the creative team and the cast presented a thoroughly enjoyable, engaging and beautifully sung and played interpretation of Puccini’s delicious comic opera and Mascagni’s dark and brooding revenge opera. Canberra is fortunate indeed to have such fine singers and musicians in town and the creative team to bring out their best. Here is an intimate opera company well worth the communiy’s support. You won’t be disappointed.