Don Buoso is a character in Gianni Schicchi’s one-act play. But he himself appears in it only as a deceased person, whose inheritance is squabbled over by greedy survivors. Gianni Schicchi is part of Puccini’s opera Triptych, which also includes The Cloak and Sister Angelica. Rarely, however, are all three operas presented at the same time. Gianni Schicchi is performed the most, mostly in conjunction with other operas. Even David Radok has already staged it for the Gothenburg Opera together with Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins.
This time he was interested in the figure of Don Buos and what preceded his death. He wrote the libretto of the opera in which Buoso invites his relatives to a birthday party, also appearing in Gianni Schicchi. They bring him gifts, but at the same time they eagerly monitor his health in anticipation of imminent death. Buoso recently survived an assassination attempt, when seven bullets were lodged in his body. “Kvér then choked,” states dryly one of the relatives, thus showing who was interested in Buos’ death.
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Both operas are connected by the characters, the Italian libretto and the music by Jan Kučera, who in the composition of Don Buos came very close to Puccini without becoming his plagiarist. His musical language is contemporary, but corresponds well with Puccini’s art of characterization and melodiousness.
Gianni Schicchi is interpreted as a riotous farce about a clever man who deceives his relatives by impersonating the already dead Buos and using his voice to dictate a false will, not for their benefit, but to ensure a bright future for himself, his daughter and her suitor.
But Radok perceives the story through a completely different lens. He turned the wild comedy into a black and rough grotesque, which lacks positive characters, and thus also a happy ending excusing Schicchi’s legal fraud. Everyone here is just a pack of hyenas including lovers Lauretta and Rinuccio. And even little Gherardin, who quickly starts stripping his great-uncle’s corpse of valuables.
The entire “opera prequel” of Don Buoso takes place in a tense suffocation of feigned smiles, congratulations, lurking glances and feverish anticipation of Buoso’s death. And when she still doesn’t come at the beginning of the second opera, the relatives mercilessly suffocate Buos in bed with a pillow.
It is a different reading of Puccini’s briefcase than we are used to, yet completely logical and inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. And as dramaturg Ondřej Hučín reminds us in a comprehensive study in the program, also from Sartre’s famous statement that hell is the others.
Here, “the others” are portrayed without the sentiment of happy endings. After all, Buoso himself is no saint, and he certainly didn’t come to his enormous fortune through hard work. The libretto hints at his connection to the mafia, and he himself acts like a coldly detached boss.
Radok also projects all of this into the production set in the monumental architecture of a modern palace, where Don Buoso dines at a long table in a golden robe on a golden plate and in front of a statue of a golden donkey that “cost him a fortune”. After all, even the toilet seat is golden.
Radok’s direction is based on the actor’s precise grasp of situations and relationships. Seemingly realistic, but with Radok, something mysterious always interferes with the depicted reality, which makes his realism magical. This is the case here as well, although not quite consistently. At the moment when Gianni Schicchi dictates his version of the will, the action begins to be too close to the traditional farcical concept of opera. And only the end with the appearance of Don Buoso returns the production to where it belongs.
The production is supported by an excellent cast of singers and actors. Štefan Margita (Don Buoso) and Svatopluk Sem (Gianni Schicchi) stand at the top of the pyramid with their performances, but Jiří Sulženko (Simone), Zdeněk Plech (Betto), Doubravka Součková (Lauretta), Daniel Matoušek (Rinuccio) and all the others are also perfect , up to Guccio Jan Líkař.
Don Buoso and Gianni Schicchi is a production that brings the National Theater back into the game for the contemporary European opera scene, and at the same time it is a title that the audience appreciates.
|Jan Kučera: Don Buoso / Giacomo Puccini: Gianni Schicchi|
|Conductor Giancarlo Andretta, direction and set David Radok, costumes Zuzana Ježková. Premiere on November 3 at the National Theatre, Prague.|
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