‹ Back to What's On La vida breve & Gianni Schicchi

18 Feb - 24 Mar 2015

Presented as a double bill

La vida breve

Manuel de Falla (1913)

From the composer of the orchestral showpiece Nights in the Gardens of Spain and the popular ballet The Three-Cornered Hat comes this irresistibly exuberant opera that sets violently passionate emotions amid the colourful sights and sounds of Granada.

La vida breve is an all or nothing tragedy of a woman who loves too much a worthless man who strings her along, knowing all the while that he is to marry another girl.   The atmosphere is heavy with Spanish fatalism, heightened by the influence of Andalusian folk song, lightened by Spanish dance rhythms, and the action is ferociously intense. 

Christopher Alden’s production was one of the highlights of Opera North’s groundbreaking, award-winning Eight Little Greats season in 2004, and was extravagantly praised by Germaine Greer on BBC2’s Newsnight Review:

‘It’s a staggering work and it was staggeringly presented and performed. If you see nothing else this year, and you give a damn, see La vida breve. Go to Salford, Nottingham, go wherever you can and see it.’

Sung in Spanish with English titles
Performance lasts approximately 1 hour 
Guidance: Contains some violence and sexual references 

Gianni Schicchi 

Giacomo Puccini (1918)

New production

After the dark, suicidal angst of La vida breve, Gianni Schicchi is the perfect companion piece – an irresistible satyr play set around the death-bed of a rich man. The scheming relatives who vie for a chunk of his fortune are all too recognisable and reveal the greed and avarice which lie just below the thin veneer of their family loyalties.

‘If you were ever in doubt that opera could be hilarious then [...] Gianni Schicchi will convince you’
The Daily Telegraph

Inspired by an episode in Dante’s Inferno, Gianni Schicchi is Puccini’s only outright comedy. Christopher Alden’s new production nods slyly in the direction of the timeless themes which Puccini exploits to brilliantly farcical effect – after all, those scheming relatives may bear an uncanny resemblance to our own family members!

With its vivid characterisation and the spontaneity of its musical invention, Gianni Schicchi is a comic masterpiece in miniature. Featuring one of Puccini’s best-loved arias, ‘O mio babbino caro’, it is here brought alive by a top drawer cast – starring Christopher Purves, ‘one of the great operatic artists of the present’ (The Spectator), in the title role.

Sung in Italian with English titles
Performance lasts approximately 1 hour

Double bill lasts approximately 2 hours 30 mins


Creative Team

Conductor | Jac van Steen
Conductor | Martin Pickard (24 Mar)
​Director | Christopher Alden


Free pre-show talks 

Fri 20, Wed 25 & Sat 28 February and Tue 3, Thu 12 & Tue 24 March from 6.00-6.30pm. Limited capacity, book early on 0844 848 2700.

What the critics say

Gianni Schicchi is quite brilliant, and one of the funniest, cleverest things you’ll see in an opera house. Christopher Purves’s cocksure, strutting con artist [is] a magnificent creation; a lovable, sharply-dressed bruiser

The Arts Desk - Read full review

[La vida breve] is always visually arresting, brilliantly choreographed and exquisitely sung

The Arts Desk - Read full review

Christopher Purves makes an irresistible rogue of Schicchi and Jennifer France sings “O mio babbino Caro” ravishingly

The Telegraph - Read full review

Alden’s masterstroke is to change the picture-postcard setting into that of a modern sweatshop... [La vida breve] hits hard

The Telegraph - Read full review

“Laugh because soon you will cry,” runs a bleak line in La vida breve. That’s a good enough reason to see this bravura double bill.

The Observer - Read full review

Hauntingly memorable... [Alden] brings this enclosed corner of society, in which casual violence and swaggering machismo are the norm, to vivid, sordid life.

The Guardian - Read full review

Strange bedfellows can make for memorable nights. [...] how unexpectedly well Manuel de Falla’s brutal slice of Spanish verismo works as a prelude to Puccini’s brilliantly sardonic comedy

The Times - Read full review

A flawless double helping of verismo. Both the music and stage direction are powerfully realised

The Spectator - Read full review

Alden has come up with a winner. His imaginative contemporary staging, unorthodox and spacious, is loaded with wit and visual know-how

What's On Stage - Read full review

Cast
  • LA VIDA BREVE CAST
  • Salud Anne Sophie Duprels
  • La abuela Elizabeth Sikora
  • Carmela Beth Mackay
  • Paco Jesús Álvarez
  • Manuel Gavan Ring
  • Uncle Salvador Brian Bannatyne-Scott
  • Singer Quirijn de Lang
  • Off stage voice Daniel Norman
  • GIANNI SCHICCHI CAST
  • Gianni Schicchi Christopher Purves
  • Lauretta Jennifer France
  • Rinuccio Jesús Álvarez
  • Nella Victoria Sharp
  • La Ciesca Claire Pascoe
  • Zita Elizabeth Sikora
  • Gherardo Daniel Norman
  • Marco Peter Savidge
  • Ser Amantio di Nicolao Jeremy Peaker
  • Betto di Signa Dean Robinson
  • Simone Brian Bannatyne-Scott
  • Dante / Buoso Donati Tim Claydon
Creative Team
  • Conductor Jac van Steen
  • Conductor Martin Pickard (24 Mar)
  • Director Christopher Alden
  • Set Designer Johan Engels (La vida breve)
  • Costume Designer Sue Willmington (La vida breve)
  • Set Designer Charles Edwards (Gianni Schicchi)
  • Costume Designer Doey Luthi (Gianni Schicchi)
  • Lighting Designer Adam Silverman
  • Movement Director Tim Claydon

Click on the venue below to plan your visit.

Leeds Grand Theatre

Find Us

46 New Briggate
Leeds Grand Theatre
LS1 6NZ

Important Information

The theatre is easily accessible by public transport. It is approximately 10 minutes walk from the main bus station and 15 minutes walk from the train station with many buses stopping in the immediate vicinity. For the most up to date information on local bus and train times, please check WYMetro. There is also a taxi rank outside the theatre although we recommend booking a taxi in advance, particularly on a Friday or Saturday evening.

Parking is available at various nearby car parks, including Edward Street/Templar Street and the St John's and Merrion Centre shopping malls. A limited amount of on street parking available near the theatre is free after 6pm but this does tend to fill up very quickly.

Nearby

Box office: 0844 848 2720

Enjoy 20% off your bill at Sandinista (Cross Belgrave Street - New Briggate) on presentation of your Opera North ticket when placing their food order. To book a table call 0113 305 0372. Food is served till 10pm through the week with final orders at 9pm Friday and Saturday. Only valid on the day of the performance their ticket is for. Not to be used in conjunction with any other offer. 

Newcastle

Find Us

100 Grey Street
Newcastle
NE1 6BR

Important Information

Box office: 08448 112121

Parking

Free Parking in all City Council multi-storey carparks after 5pm.

The two closest car parks to Theatre Royal are the Oxford Street multi-storey (just behind the Laing) and the Dean Street multi-storey. Click here for more info.

There are two parking spaces for blue badge holders on Shakespeare Street and three on Hood Street. Most parking meters are free to Blue Badge Holders.

Metro

Alight at Monument Metro Station and follow the signs for the Theatre Royal. We are less than one minutes walk from the Metro entrance on Grey Street.

Travel free on the Metro with your theatre ticket (up to two hours before and after the performance) - simply retain your theatre ticket for inspection by Metro Staff.

Train

The Theatre Royal is only ten minutes walk from Newcastle Central Station.

Salford Quays

Find Us

Pier 8
Salford Quays
M50 3AZ

Important Information

Box office: 0843 208 6000 

There is a passenger drop-off point immediately in front of The Lowry. Secure parking is available in The Lowry Outlet Mall multi-storey car park. There are designated areas for disabled parking on every level. 

The Lowry is accessible by train, tram and bus. http://www.tfgm.com/

From national railway stations, Manchester Piccadilly and Victoria you can travel to The Lowry by Metrolink tram. You can board an Eccles line tram and should alight at Harbour City, or Media City UK for trams which stop there, as this is slightly closer.

More info: http://www.thelowry.com/plan-your-visit/getting-here/

Nottingham

Find Us

Theatre Square
Nottingham
NG1 5ND

Important Information

Box office: 0115 989 5555

By Car

Follow signs for the city centre and the 'Royal Zone'. Nearest car parks are Talbot Street car park and Crowne Plaza Hotel car park on Wollaton Street.
For maps and information about on-street parking, off-street car parks, park and ride and the blue badge scheme please visit Parking In Nottingham

By Bus

For bus times call Nottingham City Transport on 0115 950 6070, Traveline on 0871 200 2233 or visit www.travelineeastmidlands.co.uk   Find out about our £1 return bus ticket here.

By Tram

 The 'Royal Centre' tram stop is directly outside the venue and runs every 10 minutes until midnight. There are five Park and Ride sites along the route. Visit www.thetram.net or call 0115 942 7777 for full details of the tram route. Find out about our £1 return tram ticket here.

By Rail

Nottingham Station is a 15 minute walk or a short taxi or tram ride from the venue. Call 0845 748 4950 or www.nationalrail.co.uk for train times and fares. 

What you say

Comment from Pam Barnes

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Pam Barnes said ago

I attended La Vida Breve last week and am still feeling shocked at the brutality in the production. There was no indication that there would be a violent rape and murder on the stage. I suppose Christopher Alden's intention was to suggest that people allow violence to happen in front of them these days, so I feel I must write to protest. It was difficult to relate the action on stage to the libretto which shows Paco to have a loving relationship with Salud.
Please don't employ Christopher Alden again.

OPERA NORTH response:

Thank you for your feedback and taking the time to share your thoughts. We do apologise for failing to provide adequate information of the potentially shocking and disturbing nature of the production and will explore ways to address this in the future. We hope you will not judge Opera North solely on this experience. We engage a variety of distinguished directors to work with us over a season and Mr Alden is but one. He is a highly regarded artist whose work is in demand all over the world and his distinctive approach has won us many new friends as well as some controversy. We appreciate that while Mr Alden’s theatrical approach may not be to everyone’s taste, yet strongly believe that he brings a high degree of personal integrity to his work - which continues to raise important social issues, concerns and debates.

Comment from Mark

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Mark said ago

As someone else has pointed out, La Vida Breve was marred by contradictions, from the small (50/60s clothing and mobile phones) to the major. We're puzzled as to why a character masturbates at her workbench, gets frisky and is then raped on the factory floor, while her co-workers carry on regardless. Meanwhile her grandmother, who roils with concern for her, appears to disengage and make no reaction for long periods. Of course we realise afterwards, when trying to connect the programme notes to what we're seeing, that these incidents don't take place in the same location. The problem is that the factory setting is such a solid realisation, and crowds the whole stage, so there is no other physical space to use. But even this could be resolved simply by a lighting effect. And then Salud, having comprehensively killed herself, turns out not to be dead yet! I began to get confused with the Orfeo I saw in Glasgow a few days beforehand! Add to this the orchestra not infrequently drowning out the singing, and the result is a disappointment. Such a pity that an opera very few of us will have seen before, with great music, was so seriously let down by the staging.

Comment from Poppy

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Poppy said ago

I brought an 11-year-old child to the opera for her first time, looking forward to letting her hear her favourite aria in its proper place in Gianni Schicchi, and happy to have de Falla as an extra operatic experience. Imagine my horror as we watched from the best seats a girl having her clothes ripped off and her brutal rape followed by the perpetrator masturbating beside her devastated body, all overseen by her workmates who did nothing to help her. And then another person was bullied and savagely murdered before our eyes. And then we watched the first girl slowly kill herself. All in hideous costumes and a general air of misery. Brilliant singing despite all these obstacles.

Gianni Schicchi was beautifully sung, but again the production was perverse. Buoso's family are all desperate to inherit his splendid mule, which is the best thing he owned; more valuable than all his fine houses and farms. Why, then, is a dead mule the first thing we see? It hangs upside down, lifeless, over the entire opera, negating all the hard work of the performers. What a shame.

I've been talking to my friends, including those who were there the other night, about the unnecessary and off-putting rottenness of your productions (always excepting your wonderful, heroic musicians who do a great job in spite of the ghastly productions). In future we'd like to know which operas are safe to come to without bringing a sick bag. And please will you instigate a horror warning system similar to that for films? I wouldn't have bought tickets to this show if I'd known how vile La Vida Breve was going to be, and I don't suppose I am alone in wishing Christopher Alden would keep his gratuitous nastiness to himself. Life's hard enough without paying £70 to witness folk getting raped. Somebody should at least have spotted a child going in, and warned us.

OPERA NORTH response:

Please accept our apologies for the lack of any guidance about the appropriateness of the production for children at the point at which you booked your tickets.

We do appreciate how sensitive this must have been for you, especially as you were introducing an 11 year-old to opera for the first time. We will ensure that in future, we give child guidance where appropriate at the point of putting events on-sale.

We are disappointed to hear that our production of La vida breve was not to your taste, excepting the point regarding suitability for a child. As a company we are committed to innovation and creativity, embracing new artistic concepts and continuing to develop opera as a living art form. Each season, we strive to create a bold and adventurous programme which brings together classic pieces of repertoire alongside lesser-known work, in a mixture of contemporary and more traditional stagings.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us about this matter and The Marriage of Figaro, which we were glad to hear that you enjoyed.

Comment from Brian Arthur

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Brian Arthur said ago

Hello Opera North,

My lady and I were looking forward with relish to a live performance of La Vida Breve. We have had many wonderful operatic experiences; alas this was not one. Great music ruined by the prurient fantasies of the producer, Christopher Alden. He should be sacked forthwith.
To start with the positive; the performances of the orchestra and the singers were very enjoyable, or would have been but for the dreadful action on the stage. Full marks to the musical director and musicians.
A non-contemporaneous interpretation is fine. We saw a thrilling production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle at the Edinburgh Lyceum a week or so ago where the narrator was a young punky woman with an overdriven electric guitar. Crucially they gave Brecht’s text the respect it is due; all the production devices served to express the intention of the script. Opera North treat Fernandez Shaw’s libretto of La Vida Breve with utter contempt. I found the following deviations from the libretto most objectionable: -
• The blacksmith in the forge was portrayed as a transvestite tailor. Nothing wrong with Transvestite tailors per se, but not in this context.
• The savage kicking to death the above character suffered in the second act – not in the story and coming out of nowhere.
• The groping of Salud by Paco was disturbing enough, but the extended and lubriciously graphic attempted rape was appalling. Paco clearly ejaculated in his pants and was clutching a tissue and his genitals with his hands down his trousers. I think Salud would have been glad to be shot of him after that.
• Paco’s bride, Carmela was portrayed as promiscuous wanton, clearly in an incestuous relationship with her brother Manuel. Where did that come from?
• The wedding singer was supposed to be singing cante jondo, the most profound of the flamenco forms. He was presented as a comic caricature warbling uncharacteristic tasteless ornaments.
There could be a music drama with these characters and issues portrayed but if the producer wanted to do that, he should have the decency to write his own opera rather than hang the fruits of his febrile fantasies on the work of the noble and talented Snr. de Falla.

Gianni Schicchi fared somewhat better but was not flawless. The drawn out slapstick death scene of Buoso Donati interpolated at the start of the opera, which showed him being murdered rather than dying of Natural causes was fatuous, unashamedly playing for laughs. The ongoing antics of Buoso’s ghost distracted from the action and music. Some devices worked well however. Showing Gerhardino playing with his computer tablet and headphones illustrated his boredom with the proceedings very nicely. The understudy Lauretta delivered a sublime interpretation of ‘O mio babbino caro’, imbued with tender fragility yet great strength of voice. This was the saving grace of the evening.
We attend opera regularly, including some past productions of this company. I doubt that we will be attending future Opera North presentations.
Sincerely, Brian Arthur.

OPERA NORTH response:

Thank you for taking the time to send us your feedback.

We are disappointed to hear that our production of La vida breve was not to your taste. As a company we are committed to innovation and creativity, embracing new artistic concepts and continuing to develop opera as a living art form. Each season, we strive to create a bold and adventurous programme which brings together classic pieces of repertoire alongside lesser-known work, in a mixture of contemporary and more traditional stagings.

We have recently replied to your email as well and hope to have reassured you as to our intentions.

Comment from Geoff Cook

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Geoff Cook said ago

Saw this double bill at Newcastle last night and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Whereas it is good now and again to see opera in its original setting it is also refreshing to see them with updated concepts, even if this does include attempted rape and masturbation.
I do agree with other comments though that concept is one thing - change is another matter. the pre Gianni narrative was unscripted (and unnecessary) and Bousso was NOT murdered.
Anne Sophie Duprels (as usual) and the stand in Lauretta were outstanding.

Comment from Opera North

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Opera North said ago

Rougepierre - Many thanks for your feedback on this show. Sightlines are rigorously checked for each production, from the design plans through to stage rehearsals, including seats at extreme points in the auditorium. Based on your feedback, we have asked that the views from seats CC3-4 and other seats in this area of the Balcony are added to this process in future so that we can minimise sightline issues for guests in this area as much as possible.

Furthermore, we do offer a range of prices to ensure our work is as accessible as possible, starting from £15.

We are glad to hear that you did enjoy the second half of the evening and we do hope to see you again soon.

Comment from Una Barry

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Una Barry said ago

Four of us went last night to see the Double Bill, and met some other people we knew whilst there. Wherever you get the Alden brothers, you are going to get controversy! But you also get a thought-provoking drama away from the norm, and my goodness we got it last night. So well thought out, and the Falla hasn't left me all day today. It was not for the faint-hearted, but so powerful and moving. The Puccini again went away from the norm, and the only criticism I have is that the unscripted introduction was perhaps a little too long in itself. The idea was good and gave one the background to version of what might have happened, but just a little too long. Wonderful night and well done Opera North for being so innovative. As a singer, I had never seen the Falla!

Comment from Nigel Hunt

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Nigel Hunt said ago

Whilst I enjoyed Gianni Schicchi, I found the production 'cold'. Having watched English Touring Opera perform this last year on a small stage I found their production much more enjoyable. The intimacy of a small stage brought out the characters more and brought the individual characters closer together and made the family feuding more realistic. I sometimes think that 'modern' minimalist productions such as Opera North's lose something of the message of the opera. I also agree with the previous comment about singing arias to the audience rather than to the person for whom the words are met!.

Comment from Dave Austin

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Dave Austin said ago

The degree to which one is entitled to interpret another's work is a most legitimate source of debate. I'd say that it cannot fundamentally change key parts of the story, that it ought not to be contradicted by the libretto and that, in general, it should remain true to the emotions expressed in the music - regardless of whether you choose to label it as contemporary or innovative.

In your Gianni Schicchi I may find the antics of Buoso vaguely irritating and pointless, I may find the representation of Schicchi as a Mafia boss (and to clearly signal the fear created in the relatives) as dramatically misconstrued as the fact that the relatives believe he has no power or influence on them would seem to be central to the plot and I may think that Lauretta's singing to the audience as far less emotionally engaging than it should be, All these, however, may be viewed in the realm of interpretation. Making the relatives kill Buoso is not. This turns these greedy, selfish and snobbish people who get their comeuppance into a bunch of murderers who get away with it - a message that has got absolutely nothing to do with this comedy.

In La vida breve you can have Paco masturbating to his heart's content and committing any number of unspeakable crimes - even though I may feel that it is being done in the name of 'relevance' to a modern audience as though I'm too stupid to see the connections myself unless it is made absolutely explicit. You should certainly expect me to be able to accept the use of the single set despite the change of scene in the libretto. What you should be rather more reluctant to do is to change the 'common people' from fellow victims of deception and oppression into a violent and bigoted mob. The repeated refrain about it being harder to be an anvil than a hammer is first sung by the workmen (or non-workmen in this production - no wonder the Spanish economy got in such a mess) and it links their suffering together. No matter how laudable your wish to expose such prejudices I do not think it is right to distort other people's creations to such an extent.

I do fear that simply by using words such as contemporary, innovative and creative that there is a tendency to label any criticism as solely motivated by the opposite to these. This has certainly been true at the ENO - still, at least neither of these productions was anything like as risible as their Die Fledermaus.

Comment from Opera North

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Opera North said ago

Many thanks to you all for taking the time to share your thoughts about the evening. Although we are disappointed to hear these particular productions were not to your personal taste, as a company we are committed to innovation and creativity, embracing new artistic concepts and continuing to develop opera as a living art form.

Each season, we strive to create a bold and adventurous programme which brings together classic pieces of repertoire alongside lesser-known work, in a mixture of contemporary and more traditional stagings.

Regarding concerns relating to post-aria applause, we're sorry to hear that this was distracting for you on this occasion. In general, we hope all our guests feel welcome to show their genuine appreciation and reaction to live performances as they experience them.

Many thanks once again for your feedback and we hope to see you at one of our future performances.

Comment from rougepierre

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rougepierre said ago

Frankly this was the worst opera I hae ever seen at Opera North.

It was self-indulgent rubbish. While agreeing with the comments above, what place does a rape scene and blatant masturbation have in traditional opera and a company of this standing?

Sadly also I could hardly see most of the key action as, despite sitting in seats CC3 and 4 which were shown as much flatter and not 'limited view', not only did my wife and I have to hang over the edge but even then we could not see several bits that were squeezed into the downstage right corner (which happened in Gianni Scicchi as well).

Only the chorus and a stunningly good looking girl emerged with any credit from tis performance.

Best seats £65 and we had to put up with this garbage? No wonder that we are going less and less.

Get off your pretentious self-serving backsides and go back to what you've always been good at. Traditional opera, done in a traditional style without pandering to modern promiscuous degeneration.

However, Gianni Scicchi excellent, especially the young tenor and soprano. Exquisite.

Comment from Paul Mostyn

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Paul Mostyn said ago

Sorry but my partner and I did not enjoy these productions. La Vida Breve was full of anachronisms - cast wearing 1950's dress while reading El País (an 80s creation) and the wedding dress was paid for in Euros - and in an utterly unsuitable setting. The second part of the opera was meant to be a wedding celebration gatecrashed by the jilted Salud and her family, and not as it was staged. Had the producer been there he would have deserved to be booed off the stage and out of the theatre!

As for Gianni Schicchi, the beginning, unscripted by the composer and his librettist, totally changed the opera into at best a not very funny black comedy. No complaints about Christopher Purves, but can yopung sopranos sing to the libretto not to the audience. "O Mio Babbino Caro" is meant o be an intimate plea to Lauretta's father, not belted out to the audience when alone on stage! Post-aria applause is inappropriate in Puccini (any of his arias) and producers, conductors and singers should be aware - Puccini did not end this with a full close!

Comment from Jonathan

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Jonathan said ago

I couldn't agree more with the comment below regarding La Vida Breve. The wonderful Falla music and excellent singing we're put in the shade by a travesty of a production where the director indulged his warped sexual fantasies which had little to do with the actual story. How did this production, which everyone I spoke to described simply as "nightmarish", ever get past the management? At least the evening was rescued by a charming and witty production of Gianni Schicchi which left a smile on one's face.

Comment from Michael Nelson

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Michael Nelson said ago

The production of La Vida Breve was one of the worst I have seen in my years of supporting Opera North. The setting and the staging were a complete mess, a wilful distortion of what is a wonderfully vibrant and colourful opera. No complaints about the musical side. Gianni Schicchi was more enjoyable although even in this there was some pointless and irritating staging. An evening when the aural triumphed over the visual.

Comment from Pamela & John Cross

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Pamela & John Cross said ago

La Vida Breva & Gianni Schicchi made a fabulous evening and counterbalanced each other wonderfully. The singing, orchestra, acting, production and staging were of the highest order. We would recommend this to everyone as a "must see"

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