Chicago Opera Theater Review-La Voix Humaine and Gianni Schicchi

Chicago Opera Theater presented a double bill on February 6th to conclude February 14, 2016 at The Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 S. Randolph St., Chicago. Two single act operas comprise the program, beginning with Francis Poulenc’s “La Voix Humaine”, based on the play by Jean Cocteau, and starring Patricia Racette, and the beloved “Gianni Schicchi”, by Giacomo Puccini, starring baritone Michael Chioldi. While the two pieces have nothing in common, a unity of sorts was achieved by Director Andreas Mitisek’s using a lot of the basic set for both operas. Although the first piece fell somewhat flat on the line between serious drama and farce, together they supplied an intriguing double bill of high quality performances.

Gianni Schicchi cast

“La Voix Humaine”, a tragedy with a simple plot, could not fill up the huge space of the Harris Theater.  Even the exquisite voice of the lauded Racette, winningly singing out lines patterned after speech in the original French, was  not convincing as the lament of spurned love. The entire opera consists of one woman on the telephone for an hour.  What was supposed to be the tortured scene of a jilted lover, post suicide attempt, talking on a land line to the about to be married lost swain, came across as the last ditch graspings of a light-of-love. As her repeated cries of “Cherie” ascended, so did the orchestra. Since the translation placards were mounted on the very top of the soaringly high stage, this reviewer, seated in front, had a crick in her neck from moving her eyes back and forth between the non-action and the words.

Patricia Racette as Elle

The bed on which Elle had languished with phone in hand in “La Voix” is cleverly utilized in “Schicci” for a comedic false deathbed scene. However, the tacky negligee in “La Voix” has been replaced by hilarious hippie-age costumes. Also, the fairly somber and static stage set of “Voix”, restricted to the woman’s apartment, has been enlivened in “Schicci” by the highly colorful projective movements of video arts designer Sean T. Cawelti.

Patricia Racette in La Voix Humaine

Gianni Schicci is condemned to Hell as an evil impersonator in Dante’s Inferno: the short opera by Puccini is a dramatic recitation of the tale. A man has died and left his fortune to a group of friars; his family, aghast, hires Schicchi to solve their problem. The solution? He impersonates the dead man and recites a new will, swindling the family and endowing his own daughter with a dowry with which to marry one of the family’s relatives.

Bruce Hall (Simone) and Barbara Landis (Zita) in Gianni Schicht

In this fanciful piece, perfectly translated into melodic English, baritone Chioldi plays the two-faced main character with a strong comedic flair. Emily Birsan, a Chicago favorite, gave a beautifully compelling rendition of “O mio babbino caro”, in her role of the female lead. The entire cast gave lively and spirited performances in a production well worth seeing.

Andrew Simpson (Betto di Signa) in Gianni Schicchi

Chicago Opera Theater is a nationally recognized and innovative company committed to the community, engaged in educational efforts in our schools and with its Young Artists Program, and delighting viewers. For more information, as well as tickets to future performances, visit cot.org

All images courtesy of Michael Brosilow

 

 

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