GORHAM – Once every four years, the University of Southern Maine’s school of music and department of theater collaborate on a fully staged opera production. This March, audiences will be offered a grand opera with a pair of Puccini one-acts: “Suor Angelica,” an exquisite tear-jerker, and “Gianni Schicchi,” a laugh-out-loud comedy.

Stage director Assunta Kent has moved the setting of “Gianni Schicchi” from Florence in 1299 to a west end mansion in Portland, Maine, in 1927.

“Puccini drew his title character from a shyster condemned to Dante’s “Inferno” and, thus, set the opera in medieval Florence,” explained Kent. “But Gianni’s new job is to ‘adjust’ an old man’s will posthumously for his greedy heirs, who are each illuminated by the property they desire. However, houses in Quintole and land in Empoli provide little insight for Maine audiences, so I have remapped the opera over the Portland area. We all have a sense of the rich older lady who must have the cottage on Peaks Island and the west end ‘fashionista’ who must have the townhouse in Boston. And we fully get the pomposity and delusions of grandeur of the former mayor of Scarborough.”

Singers from the USM Opera Workshop, led by Kent and music director Ellen Chickering, will perform these two works in English March 13 – 21 in Russell Hall on USM’s campus. Robert Lehmann will conduct the live orchestra, the largest ever, including a harp. Tickets are $20; $14 for seniors, $10 for students. Call 780-5151. Advance reservations are required.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. March 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21; at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 15; and at 10 a.m. Tuesday, March 17, for a student matinee (with piano only, no orchestra.)

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