If you drive through the town of Carnegie, you probably won't think, "Boy, I'll bet there's some great opera around here." Yet for 72 seasons, the Pittsburgh Savoyards have performed one operetta after another, usually Gilbert & Sullivan classics. If community theater ever needs to defend its existence, the Savoyards have made a great case this month. What's more, it's a double-feature.
"Trial by Jury" is a micro-opera by the great English duo, and it's a straightforward satire of courtrooms and wayward youth. Like Iolanthe and Penzance, there's hardly a story to trifle with. Instead, there are goofy arias and slapstick galore, and Richard Currie, as the maniacal judge, would steal the show if the plaintiff and defendant weren't such excellent rivals. This is the kind of show that the Savoyards are known for, and the only thing to ponder is how little Carnegie has attracted so many stunning operatic singers.
Because "Trial" is only one act, the Savoyards have tried an experiment: "Gianni Schicchi," a brief little opera by Giacomo Puccini. As opera goes, "Gianni" (1918) is a fairly late work, and unlike most Puccini fare, it's a screwball comedy. In short: When Signor Donati dies, his family tries to rewrite his will by pretending he's still alive, thanks to the trickster Gianni Schicchi. Hilarity ensues.
The Savoyards perform for a mixed crowd -- the man in front of me wore a Hines Ward jersey, his date a dressy gown. But "Gianni" and "Trial" may appeal to all. The performances are energetic, the voices robust and the orchestra skilled, and for musical hijinks like this, showmanship is everything. Director Michael McFaden must have had a field day with his actors, many of whom perform in both shows. Meanwhile, as Schicchi, Sean Donaldson is a comic force. The verdict: crowd-pleasing comedy, guilty as charged.
"Trial by Jury" and "Gianni Schicchi" continue through Sun., Oct. 24. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. 412-734-8476 or pittsburghsavoyards.org.