LOS ANGELES ~ Woody Allen, the New York movie director best known for his comedies, earned high praise from music critics this week after his debut at the weekend as the director of a classical opera.
Allen, 73, had been wooed by famed tenor Placido Domingo, the general manager of the Los Angeles opera, to direct the romantic comedy Gianni Schicchi, the third piece in Giacomo Puccini’s Trittico of one-act operas.
“Allen, who described himself recently as ‘not the greatest choice in the world’ to direct an opera, turned out to be the greatest choice in the world for the comic conclusion to Trittico,” wrote Los Angeles Times music critic, Mark Swed, calling Allen’s Gianni Schicchi “a production of genius.”
“Allen… manages to be both irreverent and absolutely true to the music and the spirit of the work,” Swed wrote, crediting the New York wit with making “even the opera’s maudlin hit tune, O mio babbino caro, hilarious.”
Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times praised Allen’s Schicchi as “a cleverly updated and inventive staging of the popular comedy.”
But he faulted Allen for overdoing the “sight gags and busy-ness” in the opera and for taking a “regrettable directorial liberty” by changing Puccini’s happy ending to a more sinister one with an “Italian vendetta twist.”
Entertainment daily Variety mixed its praise for Allen with criticism of an element of his opera debut that had drawn a chuckle from Tommasini: Allen kicked off Gianni Schicchi with a montage of film credits using mock-Italian names.
“Truth to tell, it did not start well, with a movie screen full of sophomoric wordplay with funny Italian words – e.g., ‘impetigo’ – familiar from the Woody of old,” wrote Alan Rich in Variety.
“After that, Allen did manage a properly whizzing delivery of the wonderful piece, aided by Thomas Allen (no relation) in the title role and by Santo Loquasto’s set design of a cluttered Italian tenement of any and all times,” said Rich.
The other two, more melodramatic operas in the Puccini trilogy – Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica – were directed by William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, who has previous experience directing opera.
Il Trittico, which opened the season for the Los Angeles opera, the fourth largest company in the United States, will run until September 26.