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CHICAGO OPERA THEATER

Opera Memphis artistic director Michael Ching's 1997 one-act, Buoso's Ghost, picks up where Puccini's short farce Gianni Schicchi left off 80 years ago. Puccini's opera--usually staged last on a triple bill titled Il trittico (1918)--ends with the wily peasant Schicchi triumphant in a scheme to trump the greedy relatives of dead Florentine merchant Buoso Donati. In Ching's sequel the curtain opens on the Donati mansion just hours later, as Puccini's young lovers--Schicchi's daughter Lauretta and Rinuccio, the most sympathetic of the Donatis--are rhapsodizing about their impending marriage. Schicchi then discovers that the Donatis poisoned Buoso; enraged by the collapse of their plan to alter his will, they try to pin the murder on Schicchi. The use of plot, characters, and musical ideas from a famous opera isn't unprecedented, of course: Rossini wrote a prequel to The Marriage of Figaro, and John Corigliano has borrowed from Mozart too. Ching largely stays true to the wit, compactness, and musical idiom of the original, though here and there you can sense his affinity to a later style, the vaguely dissonant mid-20th-century lyricism he learned from his conservative mentors--Carlisle Floyd, who composed Susannah, and Robert Ward of The Crucible. His entertaining score constantly plays with a motif from the Puccini, but overall it's darker and more agitated, and sometimes it breaks into doo-wop or a churchlike chorus. The Chicago Opera Theater is presenting Gianni Schicchi and Buoso's Ghost back-to-back in a double bill, and its stagings bring out all the humor and pathos in each. The ensemble singing is almost uniformly outstanding, soprano Michelle Areyzaga is sensational in Lauretta's signature aria, and best of all is baritone Philip Kraus's manic tour de force as Schicchi. Carl Ratner's direction is brisk and nuanced, and so is the orchestral accompaniment, led by Lawrence Rapchak. Friday, 7:30 PM, and Sunday, 3 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; 312-704-8414.

TED SHEN

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