Tuesday, March 26, 2019

PREVIEW: TTU Opera's Double Bill - The Medium and Gianni Schicchi

The Medium. Photo by Bill West-Davis
by Shane Strawbridge

I was lucky enough to be invited by Dr. Gregory Brookes to attend one of the final rehearsals for the Red Cast of Texas Tech University School of Music Spring Opera Double Bill of The Medium and Gianni Schicchi. If what I witnessed during the rehearsal run on Monday night is any indication, there will be plenty that is worth your time once the performances begin on Wednesday.

The Medium is a short dramatic opera with words and music by Gian Carlo Menotti, originally performed at Columbia University in 1946. It tells the story of an alcoholic matron who holds phony seances at her home with the help of her daughter and a mute servant boy. During one of her fake seances, the matron feels something she believes to be real, leading to the unraveling of her own sanity.

The Medium has some of the most beautiful arias written for English language opera,” says Brookes. “The plot is dark and asks a lot of our graduate singers as they prepared these roles.”

Gianni Schicchi. Photo by Bill West-Davis

As Medium Madame Flora (or Baba as she is called by her daughter) Ashley West-Davis displays a booming resonance with her vocal instrument that commands attention the moment she opens her mouth. As her daughter Monica, Hannah Fox boasts a bright and piercing voice that floats effortlessly through the cavernous Allen Theater. The scenic design by Timothy Walsh is a technical highlight of the production, with a few magic tricks up its sleeve.

On the second half of the bill is Gianni Schicchi, a comic opera with music by Giacomo Puccini written to an Italian libretto by Giovacchino Forzano. It premiered in 1918 at the Metropolitan Opera. Puccini’s opera revolves around the antics of Gianni, a local farmer and part-time actor who has been summoned by the family of a recently deceased miser to rewrite the will to their benefit. Schicchi, however, may have other plans in store.

“The smaller roles [in Gianni Schichhi] allow our undergraduates a chance to sing on the stage, many of them for the first time,” says Brookes. “The bigger roles give our more advanced singers a chance to sing opera at its highest level. The arias in Schicchi are some of the most famous in the repertoire.”

The biggest highlight of this production is the vocal chemistry between Andrew Campbell and Nicole Magallon. His powerful tenor punctures the air, and Magallon’s rendition of “O Mio Babbino Caro” will leave you wanting more.

Both of these productions have a second cast that I did not have the opportunity to see during my rehearsal visit.

Performances will take place in Allen Theater at the Texas Tech campus March 27-30 7:30 p.m.  Tickets available at and are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors. Free for Texas Tech students with ID.

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