ST. PETERSBURG — The set for Puccini's opera Gianni Schicchi at American Stage is exactly the same as the set for the Edward Albee play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which recently closed at the theater. Same fireplace, same portrait of the president of New Carthage College over the mantle, same books and magazines scattered around the living room. The only difference is that there is a four-piece combo in one corner.
Gianni Schicchi — or "Johnny Schicchi,'' as this co-production by St. Petersburg Opera and American Stage awkwardly puts the Italian title — fits surprisingly well on Scott Cooper's set, which he designed for both opera and play in a cost-saving collaboration. The leather couch where George and Martha quarreled the night away serves nicely as the deathbed for the Florentine patriarch Buoso Donati, whose greedy relatives unhappily discover that his will leaves everything to a monastery.
It is fun to hear operatic voices in such intimate surroundings as the 182-seat theater, and it was even possible Sunday night to make out most of the words in the libretto, sung in English, which can't be said for a lot of opera productions. Gianni Schicchi is a short (one act lasting exactly one hour), comic affair, and the reduction of the orchestra score down to keyboard, violin, cello and bassoon sounded good in arrangements by Mark Sforzini, who conducted and played bassoon.
Puccini's only comedy has several delicious roles, notably the title character, the sly trickster called in by Donati family members to rewrite the will to benefit them. "Leave everything to me. You'll get what you deserve,'' Schicchi assures them, and as his own scam plays out, he is good to his word in Richard Cassell's richly farcical performance.
The opera also has an appealing tenor-soprano romance, with Schicchi's daughter, Lauretta, singing one of Puccini's best-loved arias, O mio babbino caro (O dear daddy), in a fetching performance by Phoenix Gayles. Rinuccio, the object of her affection, is handsomely portrayed by Adam Hall, whose folk song to the splendor of Florence is a highlight. Melissa Misener has an effective turn as gray-haired Aunt Zita.
Director Todd Olson transplants Gianni Schicchi from 1299 to the present, with the obligatory smart phones and a laptop for the lawyer. Italian stereotypes are played up to the hilt. Most of the guys are laden with neck chains and have the Vinnie Barbarino moves down pat.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.