Westmont College’s Music and Theater Arts departments pool their considerable resources of talent and ingenuity to present two one-act Italian comic operas, Gioachino Rossini’s “La cambiale di matrimonio/The Marriage Contract “(1810), and Giaocomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” (1917-18) at 7 p.m Friday, Feb. 28, Sunday and Tuesday, March 1 and 3, in the New Vic Theater in Santa Barbara.

Tickets are $20 for general admission, $15 for students and seniors, and may be purchased at www.newvictheater.com.
The music will be under the supervision of Michael Shasberger, Adams professor of music and worship, and the stage action is in the magical hands of John Blondell, professor of theater arts.

“The Marriage Contract” was Rossini’s first opera, written when he was 18. Although the setting is England, and the characters are allegedly English or Canadian, the plot and mise-en-scène, not to mention the authors, are distinctly Italian, and the situation comes more or less directly from commedia dell’arte, complete with a rich, cranky parent; a beautiful, willful daughter; her poor true love; and naughty, conniving servants.

The most notable music in the opera is the duet “Dunque io son,” which the thrifty composer put to even greater use later in The Barber of Seville (1816).

“Gianni Schicchi” must be the only comedy derived from Dante‘s Inferno (for all that Dante himself called his whole work “The Divine Comedy”), but that is the source of the story.

It was premiered in the tag end of the deadliest international conflict since the Napoleonic Wars (during which, by coincidence, “The Marriage Contract” was premiered). So, chiaramente, the Italians have a unique way of building morale in wartime.

“Gianni Schicchi”s most notable music is the soprano aria, one of the most popular in all opera, “O mio babbino caro,” which the film director James Ivory used for the title theme in his movie of E.M. Forster‘s novel “A Room with a View.”

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at gerald.carpenter@gmail.com. The opinions expressed are his own.