Cavaleria Rusticana (Mascagni), Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
WNO, on Tour
Runs: 3h 10m, one interval
Review: David & Paul Gray, Birmingham Hippodrome, 10 June 2016
Early operatic realism with superb singing all round.
Cavaleria Rusticana & Pagliacci are regarded as the operas that gave birth to the Verismo (that’s ‘realism’) style in Italian Musical Theatre. They are usually performed together.
WNO’s production of the first of these works takes the idea of realism very literally. The curtain rises on a detailed and convincing representation of a street in a southern Italian town at the end of the 19th Century, densely populated with a highly choreographed chorus of citizens going about their late 19th Century Italian business. They go on about their business – sweeping, chatting; shaking out sheets; coming and going for no apparent reason for some time. Which brings home how phenomenally well upholstered the front end of this opera is.
It’s a good ten minutes before Camilla Roberts’ Santuzza makes her entrance, radiating dignified pathos as the wronged woman, and the emotional rollercoaster ride takes off apace. This is an opera where the most extreme emotional states are expressed by singers taken to the boundaries of their vocal capabilities. Fortunately, the principals and chorus are more than equal to the challenge. The singing is spectacular. While this is something of a stand-and-deliver product, when singers deliver goods of this quality with such passionate commitment, who cares?
The top notch cast is headed by Peter Auty, stepping in for an indisposed Gwyn Hughes Jones; a tenore di sforza with real beauty of tone.
The second opera, Pagliacci, is approached in a much less traditional manner. This is appropriate for what is, in its dramatic self-awareness and musical language, a much more forward looking work. A group of travelling actors and clowns arrive in a battered jalopy in a world peppered with visual references to Italian cinema of the 1950s. In this production the central role of the clowns means that verismo is tinged with a nightmarish surrealism. This contrast is physically embodied by Metta Raval’s Nedda; cheap glamour and earthy sexuality in an electric pink clown’s wig.
The use of clowns and circus performers in the second act play within a play is particular delightful. This makes the eventual collision between drama and verismo life all the more powerful and emotionally compelling.
Again, the singing is breath-taking in its beauty and commitment.
Special praise is due to the WNO orchestra and chorus in both of these works conducted by the marvellous Carlo Rizzi. The choral sound is ravishing and the instrumental playing both sensitive and muscular throughout.
Turiddu: Peter Auty
Santuzza: Camilla Roberts
Mamma Lucia: Anne-Marie Owens
Alfie: David Dempster
Lola: Rebecca Afonwy-Jones
Toni: David Dempster
Canio: Peter Auty
Nedra: Meeta Raval
Silvio: Gyula Nagy
Beppe: Trystan Llyr Griffiths
Additional Performers: Richard Atkin, Peter Gregory, Stuart Hulse, Andy Kenny, Frank Rozelaar, Derek Tilly
Conductor Carlo Rizzi
Director: Elijah Moshinsky
Revival Director: Sarah Crisp
Set Designer: Michael Yeargan
Lighting Designer: Howard Harrison
Lighting on Tour: Paul Woodfield
Chorus Master: Alexander Martin
Musical Preparation: David Doidge, Russell Moreton
Staff Director: Anna Pool
Language Coach Rosalba Lo Duca
Stage Manager: Jenni Price
Production Manager: Richard Norton
The Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera