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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Opera Review: Reality Blurs, Murder Occurs

Cav/Pag at the New York City Opera.
The New York City Opera's new Stephen Lawless production of Cavallieria Rusticana and Pagliacci takes the classic verismo double bill and turns it on its head. Led by house maestro George Manahan, this is a powerful one-two punch of these great operas, made all the stronger by Lawless's decision to integrate the characters of the two works, blending the lines of reality and increasing the dramatic power of the evening.

At first, the crossovers start without the audience realizing it, when Silvio (the lover of Nedda from Pagliacci, played by Michael Todd Simpson) shows up in Cavalleria as Turiddu's callous drinking buddy. Later, a visibly battered Lola (Alfio's wife in Cav, played by Rebecca Ringle) wanders through the carnival of Pag, suicase in hand.

Alfio (the killer in Cavalleria, played by baritone Andrew Oakden) crosses the stage at the start of Pagliacci, pockets his switchblade (the murder weapon) with a nod to the audience, unbuttons his jacket, vest and shirt, and reveals that, underneath he is dressed as Tonio, the evil clown who destroys Canio's marriage in the second opera.

Both operas were anchored by strong performances, and both featured the stellar baritone of Andrew Oakden, singing his first City Opera performances as Alfio and Tonio. This was a sturdy performance, brilliantly acted. He sang "Il Cavallo Scalpita" with feeling and rhythmic snap, and nailed the confrontation with Turriddu (tenor Brandon Jovanovich.) Oakden's second performance, (as Tonio) was creepy and malignant from the Prologue onward. The audience was aware that Tonio was really Alfio--not just the same singer but the same man who committed the murder in the first opera. This made Oakden's performance all the more disturbing.

Brandon Jovanovich displayed a fine, ringing voice as Turiddu in the first opera. He pulled real pathos from the opera's climax and treated Santuzza (Anna Marie Chiuri) with venomous contempt. The two did not shy from the physical aspects of playing the feuding ex-lovers--their chemistry and kinetic fight choreography enhanced Mascagni's music and practically leapt off the stage. As Santuzza, Chiuri was a powerhouse, the right mix of beautiful singing and pure rage. Susan Nicely was a moving Mamma Lucia, her final scene with Turiddu was the emotional climax of the opera.

Pagliacci was also blessed with good physical acting and fine vocal performances. Maria Kanyova was an athletic Nedda--making one wonder how she produces such beautiful vocal tone when contorting her way across the red velvet couch upon which she canoodles with Silvio.

The famous, murdering clown, Canio, was played as an alcoholic actor and sung by tenor Carl Tanner, who has a fine, round voice and chose his own interpretation of the "laughing sob", not resorting to hamming or cliché. It was interesting to see Canio do his clown bit in grease paint and a striped suit--the character was so depressed and angry that he didn't even bother to get into costume. The rest of the cast, Robert Mack as Beppe and Michael Todd Simpson as Silvio, provided some nice singing and able support.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats