So does Woody Allen’s opera work?

So does Woody Allen’s opera work?


norman lebrecht

June 01, 2018

The veteran director is bringing his LA production of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi to La Scala next season. Here’s how it went down first time round in 2008.

Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph: Il trittico was a triumph pretty much all round. Allen’s version of Gianni Schicchi gets off to a ghastly start when some some cod titles worthy of Nigel Molesworth are flashed on to a screen: A Prosicutto e Melone production, starring Oriana Fellatio and Luigi Impetigo, etc.

This initial lapse of taste can be forgiven, however, because once the curtain rises, what follows is pure delight.

One might have guessed that Allen would have plumped to set this tale of a noisy, scheming family in the Jewish Brooklyn he paints in many of his films, but wisely he keeps it Italian – though Santo Loquasto’s breathtaking designs, entirely black and white in homage to the neo-realism of Vittorio de Sica, evoke the backstreets of post-war Naples more than the medieval Florence of the libretto.

I’m not taken by the idea of an enraged relative returning to murder Schicchi at the climax, but Allen otherwise lets the comedy flow without inserting extraneous gags or concepts…

Anthony Tommasini, New York Times: Far from being incompetent, his “Gianni Schicchi” is a cleverly updated and inventive staging of the popular comedy, marred only by a regrettable directorial liberty at the end. In another recent comment to the press, he described “Gianni Schicchi” as “funny compared to ‘Tosca,’ not funny compared to ‘Duck Soup.’ ” True enough, though as the performance began I was briefly worried that Mr. Allen was determined to turn Puccini into the Marx Brothers….

But the only real miscue comes with Mr. Allen’s altered ending. After bamboozling the family of Donati, Puccini’s Schicchi points to the happy Lauretta and Rinuccio, who now have the money to marry, and asks the audience’s indulgence, since his scam has fostered young love. But Mr. Allen has the indomitable Zita (Jill Grove), Donati’s avenging cousin, burst in and stab Schicchi, who poses his question to the audience and then drops dead.

You can understand why Mr. Allen could not resist giving an Italian vendetta twist to Puccini’s happy ending. But isn’t it more comically, cynically, triumphantly right for Schicchi to get away with everything?

image: woodyallenpages


  • Anthony says:

    I believe Dylan Farrow – so honestly could not care less about Allen, his opera, his films or any other thing that monster does. Hope justice catches up with him soon.

    • Bylle Binder says:

      Same here. I really don’t care about this man anymore. I believe Dylan Farrow and besides I find it rather “odd” that he married his step-daughter.

      • Dan P. says:

        Soon-Yi was never his step-daughter. Why do people keep saying this??? Allen and Mia were neither married, nor did they even live together.

        Why should one automatically believe Dylan in light of what her brother – who was there – said in his very detailed discussion of the situation? It really paints a completely different picture of the entire situation. They can’t both be right.

        Soon-Yi and Woody Allen have been married for 21 years now. Shouldn’t that give their relationships some credibility at this point? How many people does anyone know that have been married that long? And why should anyone judge in any case. They WEREN”T related in any way. Both Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky married their cousins. They WERE related. They had the same grandparents. Doesn’t anyone find the icky?

        Where is the line where one finds the personal life of an artist overweighing appreciating their art? Wagner was sleeping with his friend and host’s wife – in THEIR house. Gesualdo murdered his wife, her lover, and his own child. That should be worse than falling in love and marrying someone who’s the daughter of someone you know, right?

        • Petros Linardos says:

          Marrying cousins is unfair for the children: they are at greater risk of genetic abnormalities. And that should trump any cultural values.

          • Jim C. says:

            So, let’s stop listening to their music.

            Got it.

            Btw, what does “Dylan Farrow” have to do with staging an opera?

          • Bylle Binder says:

            As someone with a bit of experience in matters of genetics (I bred a few horses and I’ve written a few books around the subject) I can tell you that a bit of in-breeding isn’t a problem. Just on the contrary. In horse breeding it’s often done because with in-breeding you can consolidate certain characteristics like talent for jumping, big gaits or fast running. The risk of inbred degeneration isn’t big in the first and even in the second generation. Considered cousins normally share only 25 % of their genetic the likelihood of genetic problems by offspring of them isn’t much bigger as with not related parents.
            However, if you think of the European royal houses and their genetical problems like haemophilia among the offspring of queen Victoria and her cousin Albert – well, the both of them weren’t simply cousins, but even more related. And another case: Emperor Franz-Josef from Austria and his famous “Sisi” – his cousin Elisabeth in Bayern. They were cousins because their mothers were sisters. Besides Franz-Josef’s father and his mother had been cousins, too. And while Elisabeth’s mother was’t closely related to her husband – her parents had been cousins. And the farer you go into their pedigrees the more you get a phenomena which genetic specialists call “Ahnenschwund” (atrophy of forebears). At the place in the pedigree where “normal” people have 16 forebears they have only 8 – and the more you go back the bigger this count becomes.
            However, coming back to the first generation: If there isn’t a genetic disorder running in the family, marrying one’s cousin really isn’t a big problem.

          • Barry Guerrero says:

            “And that should trump any cultural values”

            . . . was that pun intended?

        • Bylle Binder says:

          Well, I know a lot of people who’re married for longer as 22 years. My parents: 54 years. My grandparents: 52 years. My favourite aunt: 36 years. My brother: 30 years.

          However, that’s not our subject. Our subject is Woody Allen who’s married a girl he got to know by being something like a “father figure” in her adopted family. She was nine years old as her mother started a relationship with Allen who adopted two of her (adopted) siblings and was probably father to a third one. So I think he was very well the “father” figure in this family. As Soon Yi was 21 Allen started a secret affair with her which came up because Mia Farrow found some nude photographs from her daughter in Allen’s possession.

          Forgive me for being a bit prissy, but I think cheating on your partner with her (adopted) daughter is rather fishy and certainly not the behaviour of a gentleman. And considering he knew her as a child… sorry, but that’s difficult to swallow and it throws a certain light on the entire thing with Dylan Farrow.

          And coming now to the L.A. Gianni Schicchi: I did enjoy this production and I even traveled to Spoleto for seeing it again. However, a friend of mine was in the original cast and from what he told I can’t get myself to admire this as Woody Allen’s work. The set was designed by Santo Loquasto, most of the stage direction was done by Sir Thomas Allen.

          Besides I was never a big fan of the Woody Allen movies, hence I got some problems when he’s put next to a genius like Wagner (and I’m certainly not a Wagnerian).

    • Mark says:

      Sure, because a mentally disturbed girl whose claims were investigated by the authorities in two states (CT and NY) and who was considered “unreliable and probably coached” by the experts is so believable. I have news for you – there is no Santa !

    • La Verita says:

      3 of Mia Farrow’s children are dead already, and 2 of them were suicides. So who is the monster here???

      • Barry Guerrero says:

        One can believe all they want, that doesn’t make it fact. I’m hoping that here in the colonies, we’ll retain the maxim that a person is innocent until PROVEN guilty. Otherwise, a society simply slips into barbarism.

        Here’s what I believe: Mia Farrow is one truly ‘whacked’ person. That doesn’t make it a fact, so I don’t preach it as fact.

      • JamesM says:

        Mia Farrow’s father, director John Farrow was no saint. He was famous for cruelly berating actors to the breaking point.

      • Lorna says:

        Only one of Mia’s children committed suicide. He had been a paraplegic child with polio rescued from the streets of Calcutta. During his traumatic first few years he was in an orphanage at one point chained up. Children there would throw rocks at him because he made an unusual growling noise. At twenty-seven he was a qualified mechanic and applying for a position with the police. It was at that point in his life he took his own life. Many of Mia’s children are severely disabled with a traumatic history. The other two died of illness and a genetic condition.
        I do believe it is a bit of a technicality. Woody Allen is not Soon-Yi’s step father but when you are in a twelve year relationship with the mother that is pretty much a piece of paper in my opinion.

    • Michael says:

      If you’re going to discard the art of fallible men, you’ll be left in an artless world. Allen is a creep. His movies are funny. Revere the art, not the man.

      • Théo says:

        It’s a bit more subtle than that. His movies are not just funny, some are dramatic, sad, some are light, yes, but to pigeonhole him as a funny director is as erroneous as calling him a creep. If you want a funny creep, you have Judd Apatow. Woody Allen is the exact opposite of that, a sensible thinker.

        • Michael says:

          Calling someone funny doesn’t mean they’re *only* funny any more than calling someone a creep means they’re only a creep. Are we not allowed to describe someone as anything without describing them as everything?

          • Théo says:

            You’re allowed to describe them accurately, and to me, Woody Allen is neither a funny nor a creepy director.

          • Michael says:

            Haha. This is the stupidest debate ever. Funny and creepy are inherently subjective terms. If I called him 6 foot tall, I would be “erroneous.” But certainly I’m allowed my opinion on things that are subjective, as are you allowed yours. Also, I didn’t call him a creepy director; I called him a creepy man.

          • Théo says:

            Subjectivity has its own limits. A wrong opinion based on things that are “subjective” should be rendered valid just because it’s subjective? I don’t think so. At the end of the day, subjective (a rather convenient and vague concept) or not, some opinions can indeed lead to ridiculous judgments.

          • Michael says:

            Because not everything is subjective doesn’t mean not anything is subjective. And comedy is about the most subjective thing there is. I’ll leave it at that since we’re not getting anywhere.

          • Théophile says:

            Wise decision 🙂

          • Barry Guerrero says:

            Oh please, come on. Unless you specifically define “creepy” in some objective manner, and then look at his entire body of work and/or behavior throughout his entire life, and then compare it to your ‘objective’ definition, then it does, indeed, remain subjective.

            Put in even more plain terms, one person’s “funny” is another person’s “not funny”.

            End of argument.

          • Théo says:

            Well, who one’s here to decide when the end of the argument is, so please refrain from “announcing” like a professor when the argument ends, thank you.
            You’re not being honest, you know very well what the majority thinks of Woody Allen at the moment, and how they like to think of him as indeed a creepy man who has abused his daughter. There are high chances that these are plain lies actually. In which case we would end up with a man wrongly accused. Now is not the best time to stipulate quite matter-of-factly (as Michael did) that he is a creepy man and then hide behind the lame excuse “this is subjective.”This is a very weak excuse for insult which has never led anywhere constructive. As is obvious here.

          • Michael says:

            Theo – My original point was not that Allen is a creep (though he is) but that even if you think he’s a creep, you can still enjoy his art. Like you can enjoy Wagner.

          • Théo says:

            But then I don’t understand, what makes you think that he is a creep? And please don’t tell me the usual “He married his daughter” crap for readers of People magazine.
            What makes you think, Michael, that Woody Allen is a creep? I totally don’t get it.

          • Michael says:

            He married the sister of his adoptive and biological children and someone to whom he was a father figure to since the time she was nine. Allen has said their relationship worked in part because he was a paternal figure to Soon Yi. But even if none of this were true. Even if Soon Yi wasn’t his kids’ sister and he wasn’t a father figure to her, it would still be creepy (to me) to start a relationship with your basically common law wife’s daughter. But I respect other views on it.

          • Théo says:

            I see

    • Dennis says:

      I believe in investigations and proof and Moses who is a family therapist. Woody will make a great opera

      • Dan P. says:

        What worries me about all of this is the hysteria that seems to surround the subject regardless of the evidence or even an analysis of the accusation. It has gotten to the point that all one has to do is to make the accusation and the wheel is set in motion. This is very dangerous. It simply reproduces the hysteria around witches in the 17th century or communists in the 1950s. It’s like a fever. This isn’t an original comment but when does it all end? Clearly we can deal with people who have done bad things without turning into a mob.


    I have since discovered that the person who effectively directed in LA this was not the lacklustre bewildered Woody Allen but Thomas Allen …

  • Theo says:

    This is great news, the master is back at work, rising above the trash started by these fake allegations, finally. Can’t wait to see that.

    Should be very interesting. (2x)

  • Bruce says:

    Killing Schicchi at the end of the opera is a terrible, stupid, clumsy idea. Maybe he thought he was directing Il Tabarro.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      . . . maybe he wanted it to be more inline – or match – with “Il Tabarro” (?). Is he doing the whole trilogy?