TCO trainees show off vocal and acting skills

Reviewed by Tony Villecco

Giacomo Puccini’s one-act comedy, “Gianni Schicchi’ was presented March 12-14 as a showcase for Tri-Cities Opera’s singers in training, and almost all of the young performers delivered a lively and fully committed reading of the score in a fully staged, English-language production at the TCO Opera Center, 315 Clinton St., Binghamton. The intimate nature of the performance was enhanced by the cabaret-style seating and the use of entrances throughout the auditorium (and through the audience).

The ensemble worked well with each singer crafting a unique character based on the staging and direction of Peter Sicilian. There were, however, several standout performances.

Tenor Kirk Dougherty as Rinuccio has one of the loveliest and ringing tenor voices heard recently in the group of young performers. Surely one to watch, he managed to build a character deftly alive in love, even distancing his role from the other grasping relatives of the recently deceased Buoso Donati. His short but impassioned aria rang out with clarion beauty and focus of tone, if not always subtle.

Baritone William Roberts in the title role continues to impress with even more growth and individuality. Roberts possesses a warm, strong sound and has an inate knack for pulling off comedic roles with aplomb. Not only was he the standout in this production, but the entire cast of characters seemed to feed off both his energy and incredible stage presence.

Of course, the moment everyone waits for is love-tossed Lauretta’s famed aria, “O mio babbino caro.” Soprano Jennifer Groves delivered her missive with beautiful phrases and soft high notes, making it more the sad, beautiful pleading that it is meant to be. Because Puccini chose to have the aria suddenly spring out of nowhere, it is even that more affecting, especially when sung as well as by Groves at the Sunday matinee.

The strong secondary singers did as well as the principals. Most notable was the pliable bass of Andrew Bawden (as Simone). Julian Whitley was a very funny Marco and so good vocally that one was disappointed his role was not larger.

Ashley Maynard may have been a bit less effective vocally, but she acted up a storm as the conniving and willful Zita, her large period headdress serving to highlight her family’s eccentricities.

Smaller but vital roles werepresented in the capable hands of bass Jan Kliwer as the Notaio, soprano Anne Marie Frohnmayer as Nella and Wm. Clark Snyder as Pinellino. Other featured singers were Amanda Chmela, Dan Ibeling, John Rozzoni and longtime TCO chorister Brendan Byrnes.

The lovely, colorful period costumes were by Linda Jackson and Grace King with lighting by David Ramsay. Certainly one has to applaud the wonderful piano accompaniments of John Isenberg, playing out Puccini’s memorable score under the direction of Duane Skrabalak. This was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon: having coffee (or champagne) with the gloriously dysfunctional Donati family.

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