BWW Review: CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA AND I PAGLIACCI at Adelaide Festival Theatre

BWW Review: CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA AND I PAGLIACCI	 at Adelaide Festival TheatreReviewed by Barry Lenny, Tuesday 18th April 2017

State Opera of South Australia is presenting that ever-popular pair of operas, Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, often referred to as Cav and Pag, with Rosario La Spina, in both leading tenor roles, and casts that more than do justice to these works. As the hard working Timothy Sexton, CEO and Artistic Director of the company, as well as chorus master, and artistic director of the Adelaide Art Orchestra, pointed out, of the 160 people involved in the productions only two were from interstate, and Rosario La Spina and Jacqueline Dark appear in Adelaide often enough that they count as honorary locals, anyway. It never ceases to amaze that a small city can produce such a wealth of exceptionally talented artists in all possible genres.

Both of the operas have been updated a little into the late 1940s and they have been transposed into the city. This all works well and brings a greater relevance to the modern audience.

In Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana (rustic chivalry), La Spina sings the role of Turiddu, who throws aside Santuzza to pursue the married Lola, only to be discovered and challenged to a duel by her husband, Alfio. Turiddu has returned from war expecting to continue his relationship with hs love, Lola, only to find that she has married in his absence. He romances and seduces Santuzza, but deserts her to chase Lola again, winning her over but with unhappy endings for all concerned. La Spina is a powerful tenor with a rich voice but it is not merely the superior quality of his voice that impresses. He is also a very fine actor and, in these two operas in the verismo style, this is extremely important. His characterisations are informed and fully developed resulting in thoroughly rewarding performances.

In this first opera, he is balanced by Jacqueline Dark in the role of Santuzza, a character so often given little sympathy for her plight. Dark changes all that in a sensational rethinking of the role, filling her performance with the passion that is too often subdued or missing altogether. Be prepared to find yourself a little tearful as Santuzza's suffering is given full force. Her aria, Voi to sapete, o mama (you know, mama), has never been more impassioned, and her curse carries the weight of her distress. Dark and La Spina are a match made in opera heaven.

Then there is Teresa La Rocca in the role of Mama Lucia, Turiddu's mother, a nonna to be reckoned with. There is a strength in her characterisation giving Lucia a resilience born of a hard life. La Rocca adds another layer to the tale, providing the mother's protective instincts, the love for her son, and the deep sadness at his demise.

Catriona Barr is the flirtatious Lola, bringing a brightness and flippancy to the role that suggests a sense freedom from convention appropriate to the role, and Jeremy Tatchell is imposing as her husband, Alfio, portrayed here as a Mafia Don, and clearly not a man to cross.

In Ruggero Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, La Spina plays Canio, whose wife, Nedda, is about to run off with her lover, Silvio, but is prevented from doing so at the last moment by the hunchbacked Tonio, who is another admirer, whom she has shunned and ridiculed. Canio, though, is not blameless in this, being overbearing and jealous.

Douglas McNicol, as Tonio, begins the work by introducing the story in a monologue, making it clear that we are to see raw reality. Within the tale, he is superb as the rejected lover, spying, plotting, and filled with spite as he works to prevent Nedda and Silvio escaping to be together. They are a travelling commedia dell'arte troupe, pagliacci means clowns, their play making light of a situation that is reflecting the dark real life version happening within their ranks. Reality and commedia become entwined, ending the opera with the line, La commedia è finita! - The comedy is finished!

In their play, Canio is Pagliaccio, or Pierrot, and Nedda is his wife Colombina, while Tonio is the fool, her servant, Taddeo, and Beppe is Arlecchino, her lover.

La Spina creates a completely different characterisation as the unpleasant Canio, alcoholic, bullying, humourless, and belligerent. His wife is treated as a possession. La Spina gives Joanna McWaters plenty to work against in her role as Nedda. The best known aria from the piece is, of course, vesti la giubba, translated as 'on with the motley', or, put on your costume (and apply makeup to your face), that closes the first of the two acts. La Spina made it his own in an emotionally charged virtuoso rendition displaying Canio's mix of anger and despair.

Joanna McWaters presents a complex characterisation as Nedda, terrified of Canio, in love with Silvio, but with a nasty streak when it comes to making fun of Tonio. She is a flawed being, caught in a trap of her own making, wanting to free herself but afraid of being caught out. McWaters essays these mixed emotions in a definitive performance, wonderfully matching that of La Spina's explosive Canio.

As Silvio, Jeremy Tatchell is every bit the attentive lover, concerned for Nedda's safety, and his own, urging her to flee before it is too late. He shows us Silvio's fear for himself, as much as that for Nedda, which is a natural emotion to expect in a man trying to steal away the wife of an unstable person like Canio.

The role of Beppe is sung by Adam Goodburn with a gentleness and genuine fearfulness of Canio's jealous rage and his mistreatment of Nedda. Goodburn brings a tenderness and sympathetic reading to the role, setting Beppe aside as the one decent person in the group.

The importance of the contribution made by the State Opera Chorus, the Adelaide Philharmonia Chorus, and the many supernumeraries cannot be overemphasised, adding to the visual and vocal aspects and impressing on the audience the idea of busy communities. There is a lot to watch in the background of these two works.

The same production team is responsible for both works, with Nicholas Braithwaite conducting the Adelaide Art Orchestra and the State Opera Chorus, along with the principal casts, and with direction by Andrew Sinclair, assisted by Velalien, with the sets, costumes and lighting by, respectively, Shaun Gurton, Victoria Rowell, and Donn Byrnes. Working as a team, they have created two very coherent performances, all aspects combining to draw the audience into the lives of the characters and have genuine feelings for them. One doesn't merely watch and listen, but is moved by the performers, a tribute to their skills and to the insight of the production team.

These magnificent operas have a shorter than usual run, closing on Saturday, so hurry to buy your tickets as you will not want to miss these two gems.




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Barry Lenny Born in London, Barry was introduced to theatre as a small boy, through being taken to see traditional Christmas pantomimes, as well as discovering jazz and fine music at a very young age. High school found him loving the works of Shakespeare, as well as many other great playwrights, poets and novelists. Moving to Australia, he became a jazz musician, playing with big bands and his own small groups, then attended the Elder Conservatorium of Music at the University of Adelaide, playing with several orchestras. This led to playing in theatre pits, joining the chorus, playing character roles, playing lead roles (after moving into drama), then directing, set and lighting design, administrative roles on theatre boards and, finally, becoming a critic. After twenty years of writing he has now joined the Broadway World team to represent Adelaide, in South Australia. Barry is also a long time member of the prestigious Adelaide Critics Circle.