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BWW REVIEW: Opera Australia's Blended Stories Of CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and PAGLIACCI Presents Two Jilted And Spiteful Lovers With Varying Degrees Of Emotional Engagement.

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12 January 2017, 7:30pm, Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House

Rodula Gaitanou directs the revival of Damiano Michieletto's pairing of Pietro Mascagni's CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and Ruggero Leoncavallo's PAGLIACCI for Opera Australia with varying results. Originally staged at the Royal Opera House as a co-production between Opera Australia, Royal Opera House, Göteborg Opera Sweden and La Monnaie Brussels, the Sydney debut received a mixed response to the two contrasting performances.

Dominica Matthews as Mamma Lucia and Dragana Radakovic as Santuzza (Photo: Keith Saunders)

For both stories, Set Designer Paolo Fantin has created revolving sets that form part of the same universe. For CAVALERIA RUSTICANA, he has centred the action around the Panificio bakery which faces into a somewhat derelict rural Italian town square, paved in concrete and adorned only by weeds. For PAGLIACCI, the story is taken indoors to a school hall and gymnasium along with the connecting corridors and sparse dressing room. Carla Teti's costumes position the work in the 1980's, away from the fashionable cites with a simplicity of the housewives, workers and children.

Diego Torre as Turiddu and Dragana Radakovic as Santuzza (Photo: Keith Saunders)

For CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, the festivities and celebration occupying the villagers minds provides a contrast to the tale of love, lust, betrayal and revenge that is playing out between the vengeful Santuzza (Dragana Radakovic), the village girl who was soldier Turiddu's (Diego Torre) second choice upon discovering his first love, Lola (Sian Pendry), married Alfio (José Carbó) in his absence from the village.

Sian Pendry as Lola (Photo: Keith Saunders)

Commencing with a pre-recorded lamentation whereby the recently shot Turiddu (Diego Torre) sings of his love for Lola (who he'd been having an affair with), the audience first makes an emotional connection with Turiddu's mother Mamma Lucia (Dominica Matthews) as she silently grieves over her son and this makes it even harder for Radakovic to elicit any sympathy for her cause as Santuzza is behind Turiddu's demise. An unusual choice for the role and yet another import casting on an Australian stage, Serbian Radakovic lacks the emotional connection to the character which the audience should be siding with, resulting in Santuzza coming across as shrill, manipulative, opportunistic and not very likable. Vocally, she lacks the texture and light and shade to her expression, that, when paired with acting where every movement felt like effort, something reminiscent of the wooden opera of the past, gives a dull performance. When held up against Pendry's confident, expressive Lola, Radakovic makes it hard to believe that anyone could love Santuzza aside from being a stop gap and her sleeping with Turiddu more entrapment than love. Likewise, Matthews presents an emotion filled, solid performance that captures Mamma Lucia's protective maternal instinct with a natural expression that has been come the norm for Opera Australia's local talent.

José Carbó as Alfio (Keith Saunders)

As the betrayed husband Alfio, who was loving life with a satisfying career as a driver and a new wife, José Carbó presents Il Cavallo Scalpita with joy and energy, engaging with the audience and garnering sympathy when Santuzza tells him of his wife's affair. Carbó has a rich baritone giving Alfio a gravitas and an imposing sense of capability when he vows revenge. As his rival, Diego Torre gives Turiddu warmth and charm that makes it believable that the women are falling for him, whilst still having an element of entitlement and recklessness of a mother's only son that is allowed to get away with bad behaviour without consequences. As always, Torre's beautiful tenor dominates the performance, filled with emotion as Turiddu dismisses with the jealous Santuzza and flirts with the seductive Lola.

José Carbó as Tonio and Diego Torre as Canio (Photo: Keith Saunders)

For PAGLIACCI, Torre and Carbó are the only performers to double roles, taking on performers Canio and Tonio respectively. Breaking the fourth wall, Tonio presents an amusing Prologue as the clown of the pantomime that will play out on school hall stage, Taddeo. Carbó gives the piece a delightful humour and physicality before the story starts to unfold. Similar to CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, PAGLIACCI is centred on another web of love, deception and revenge, this time with the unfaithful wife being the catalyst for the demise of both clandestine lovers and presented in the form of life imitating art which Canio initially believes to be just fiction. Again, Torre gives a compelling performance as the performing troupe's leader and the cuckolded husband that is driven mad by Tonio's revelation that Canio's wife Nedda (Anna Princeva) is having an affair with villager Silvio (Samuel Dundas). He injects emotion and passion into his performance as Canio is tormented by images of Nedda and her mystery lover and his tortured Vesti La Giubba captures the intensity of his mixed emotions of betrayal, grief, disbelief and anger. Carbó gives the crippled Tonio a slyness and dangerousness as he tries to seduce Nedda and then seeks revenge when he's rejected.

Samuel Dundas as Silvio and Anna Princeva as Nedda (Photo: Keith Saunders)

Second import for the night, Anna Princeva presents a better performance than Radakovic but similarly, one has to wonder why Australian talent, of which there is plenty, has not been engaged for the role. Princeva injects more textured emotion into her portrayal of Nedda, showing the change from trapped wife longing for freedom from a jealous husband to mocking diva who violently rejects Tonio. Her vocals whilst generally strong do however lack clarity, avoiding consonants in a more poinTEd Manner than most opera singers.

Diego Torre as Canio, John Longmuir as Beppe and Anna Prenceva as Nedda (Photo: Keith Saunders)

Michieletto has loosely woven the two stories together by adding in unspoken scenes during the Intermezzo's of each story. Nedda and Beppe are first introduced papering the town with fliers and posters before the celebrations outside the bakery and Nedda's relationship with Silvio is first exposed as the baker and the performer embrace in the crowd. Following Turiddu's murder, Santuzza is seen seeking solace in the priest in the school gymnasium and finally revealing to Mamma Lucia that she is with child and Mamma Lucia carrying through on Turiddu's wish that Mamma Lucia be a mother to Santuzza.

(Photo: Keith Saunders)

Whilst CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA has gaps in the performance, that could be rectified with more appropriate casting, of which is available in Australia, PAGLIACCI is still worth sitting through Radakovic's lacklustre performance. Hopefully Opera Australia will return to utilising Australian performers that can give emotion charged performances that express a deep connection to the music and the story that Australian audiences have come to expect from the Company.

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA/PAGLIACCI


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