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Operatic Comedy, Tragedy Take OCU Stage Feb. 25-27

The dust of a Depression-era work camp and the sheen of the golden age of Hollywood provide an updated twist on two Italian opera classics at the Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University.

Ruggero Leoncavallo’s tragic “Pagliacci” and Giacomo Puccini’s comic “Gianni Schicchi” share top billing on OCU’s historic Kirkpatrick stage Feb. 25-27.

“Leoncavallo was the Tarentino of his time with edge, violence, and sexuality presented in a music-driven stylized way,” director David Herendeen said. “With Pagliacci, Leoncavallo became the poster child for the Verismo opera movement. The opera spoke in a language closer to the street emotionally. The show was their version of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.”

Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee. Tickets ($12-25) available from 405.208.5227 or David Herendeen, director of OCU’s Oklahoma Opera and Music Theater Company, will give a free talk 45 minutes the curtain, in Burg Theater.

Both operas will feature professional costumes, sets, and full orchestra. “Pagliacci” will be performed in Italian, with translations projected above the stage, under the musical direction of Benjamin Nilles. “Gianni Schicchi” will be performed in English, with the orchestra under the baton of Matthew Mailman.

Rather than the traditional setting of the 19th century Italian countryside, Herendeen is staging “Pagliacci” in a 1939 work camp “not unlike that depicted in The Grapes of Wrath…We see people with genuine woes whose lives are brightened by the visit of a theatre troupe, who then witness a double murder as the performance goes awry.“

“Pagliacci” is anchored by one of opera's most famous and popular arias, "Vesti la giubba," performed by the tragic clown of the opera’s title. A recording of Enrico Caruso singing the aria became the first record to sell one million copies.

The opening opera will be followed by “Gianni Schicchi,” a broad slapstick comedy re-imagined in 1939 Hollywood.

The story opens at the deathbed of Buoso Donati, an Oscar-winning film producer. His gathered family is awash in shallow grief. Their most intense emotions are reserved for the inheritance that awaits them.

“Gianni Schicchi is genuinely funny, not forced like in many comic operas where we, the audience, search in hope of finding of humor,” Herendeen said. “Our production speaks in old movie comedic language:  broad vaudeville Marx Brothers versus provocative slick Coen Brothers.”

Friday’s performances will be preceded with an opening night dinner ($20 in advance; 405.208.5227) in the Atrium of the Bass Music Center, 2501 N. Blackwelder. The Italian-themed buffet will feature performances by Bass School student musicians.

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