United Kingdom Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana/Leoncavallo Pagliacci : Opera Holland Park / Stuart Stratford (conductor), Holland Park, London, 22.06.13 (RB)
Director: Stephen Barlow
Designer: Yannis Thavoris
Cast: Cavalleria Rusticana
Santuzza: Gweneth-Ann Jeffers
Turiddu: Peter Auty
Alfio: Stephen Gadd
Lucia: Sarah Pring
Lola: Hannah Pedley
Nedda: Julia Sporsen
Canio: Peter Auty
Tonio: Stephen Gadd
Silvio: Chang-Han Lim
BeppeL Andrew Glover
For this production of these two masterpieces of verismo opera, Opera Holland Park kept the Sicilian and Calabrian settings but transferred the action from the 19th century to Easter 1944 for Cavalleria Rusticana and August 1974 for Pagliacci. The sets left something to be desired: they consisted of wooden boxes in the first opera and blue plastic crates in the second which were easy to move around and manipulate but did little to convey the picturesque settings. The costumes, however, were excellent with the band of Sicilian peasants and troupe of clowns brought winningly to life. I was also struck by the colour change between the two operas: the costumes and boxes seemed a little monochrome in the first but seemed to burst forth into bright primary colours in the second.
Cavalleria Rusticana opened with a bare chested Peter Auty and Hannah Pedley rolling around in bed with Auty serenading his lover. The audience were informed that Auty had been ill recently and had wanted to pull out of the production but decided rather gallantly to soldier on. Given the circumstances he coped very well indeed. He invested the opening aria with some highly expressive singing blended throughout the vocal range although his voice did not quite have the power and projection that it can. This was followed by some lovely tone painting from the orchestra with Stratford coaxing some gorgeous lyrical sounds from the strings in particular.
Gweneth-Ann Jeffers’ Santuzza had to work for her money and for the most part she coped well with the demanding vocal part. She was very good conveying the dramatic intensity of the part and sang with considerable power and authority particularly in the upper register. However, some of her vocal entries were a little untidy and occasionally I would have welcomed less vibrato. Sarah Pring’s diction was excellent and she sang very clearly and convincingly throughout, while Stephen Gadd did a good job in conveying the fluctuating emotional states of Alfio.
The action was very well choreographed in Cavalleria Rusticana with the chorus brilliantly conveying the interactions of everyday village life. The famous Easter Hymn was staged with dramatic flair with the chorus again doing an excellent job with the vocal writing. The orchestral interlude between the two parts of the opera had an affecting directness that set the scene beautifully for the finale. Peter Auty’s acting was particularly good in the final scene as he danced around the stage with a wine glass in hand trying to get the party into full swing. I was impressed with his flexibility of phrasing and the expressive vocal richness although there were some slight signs of strain in the upper register. The ghastly denouement to the opera was devastating and the look of horror on Sarah Pring’s face at the news of Tiriddu’s death was priceless.
Pagliacci started where Cavalleria Rusticana left off and showed us the cast in their original costumes standing around the lifeless body of Peter Auty’s Tiriddu. Stephen Gadd’s Tonio then took centre stage and his opening monologue was highly accomplished with Gadd showing us his full vocal range and coping well with a costume change as he was singing. Julia Sporsen did a wonderful job with Nedda’s glorious aria, Stridono Lassu and captured the fluency and lightness of the work and the ecstatic quality which this song needs: her vocal brilliance in the upper register was particularly impressive.
Chang-Han Lim who played the role of Silvio has a rich, highly coloured voice although at the beginning he perhaps lacked some of the expressive quality which this opera needs. However, he warmed up nicely as the opera progressed and the duet with Sporsen had a gorgeous lustre. No review of Pagliacci is complete without mentioning Canio’s immortal Vesti la Guibba. As one might expect, Auty gave a highly accomplished and warm performance although the aria did not quite have the heart rending emotional rawness that it needs.
The acting and singing of all the major characters was very good indeed in Act 2’s commedia dell’arte scene which was deliciously frothy and light. They were ably assisted by Stratford and the orchestra who brought out nicely the coquettish elements of the score. The performers did an excellent job conveying the dramatic tension which courses through the scene while the final descent from high farce to tragedy was both sudden and shocking in exactly the way it should be.
Overall, this was another highly accomplished production from Opera Holland Park.