|Santuzza||Helen Hardwick/Elaine Hayward|
|Turiddu||Stephen Miles/Peter Brenton|
|Mamma Lucia||Helen Watkins|
|Silvio||Justin Joseph/Jonathan Prentice|
FULL marks to Minack manager Philip Jackson - who must know something about the weather that we don't know - for deciding to go ahead with Monday's performance. Amazingly, against all odds, on a night which bore a closer resemblance to January than July, it did not rain.
All credit also to Surrey Opera for having the courage of Philip Jackson's convictions and for bringing on the company's first visit to the Minack, Calabria to Cornwall so convincingly in the double bill "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci".
Known in the business as "Cav and Pag", neither Pietro Mascagni's vignette of village life, nor Ruggero Leoncavallo's tale of travelling players, with its play within a play, is a bundle of laughs. On the contrary, concerned as they both are with human frailties, with sinning as much as singing; love, lust and misplaced loyalties; duplicity and disaster; murder and mayhem; revenge and rustic chivalry, they could hardly me more moving - the very stuff of grand opera.
Directed and conducted by Jonathan Butcher, the production captures the Catholic claustrophobic feel of 19th century Calabria well, and is a considerable debut.
First-rate singing and acting from the principals; strong support from a disciplined, not to say devoted, chorus; and an orchestra which positively thunders at times but is always tuneful; apart from a crumbling church facade which causes more trouble than it is worth and should be consigned to the Minack zawn forthwith, the whole thing is as good to listen to as it is to look at.
From Turiddu's opening aria serenading his former love, his neighbour's wife Lola, in "Cav", to Canio/Pagliacco's acceptance that, even though his heart is breaking, the show must go on, and the final pronouncement, one of the great lines in opera, "The comedy is ended", in "Pag", not forgetting the Easter Hymn in the former, Surrey Opera comes up with, as the "commedia dell'arte" player Pagliacco promises, "Un grande spettàcolo" - A show to remember!
OLD warhorses or heavenly twins? Call them what you will, Pietro Masagni's and Ruggero Leoncavallo's respective exercises in the art of verismo have for more than a century been indissolubly linked in countless double bills of Cav and Pag. And so they appeared last weekend in the delightful setting of Heathfield Walled Garden, Croydon, both directed and conducted by Jonathan Butcher.
Masagni's dark Sicilian tragedy was clearly sung and precisely enunciated. The chorus was in excellent voice, though rather wooden and lacking in the joys of spring as they made their homeward way after the Easter church service.
Elaine Hayward's anguished Santuzza was sturdily supported by Helen Watkins, a study in granite stoicism as Mama Lucia; but there was a touch of stolidity about the acting of Peter Brenton as Turiddu, whose great central duet with Santuzza, though finely sung, wanted passionate involvement.
Tim Baldwin was a staggering Alfio but something of a lay figure in terms of emotional commitment. But Rosemary Hayes, surely one of nature's Carmens, was a riveting Lola both in voice and presentation, making a smallish part look much bigger. Whatever Lola wants, Lola will surely get.
Pagliacci opened arrestingly with Devon Harrison as Tonio springing from a box like a jack-in-the-box to sing the Prologue, and sing it thrillingly. The burnished, velvety baritone voice was wedded to a fervent intensity of acting which added up to a performance of rare quality.
It was matched by Boo Wild's tagic heroine Nedda, a child of nature, soaring like a lark in her ballatella to the birds, and acting her head off with all manner of subtle coquettish routines in her role aas Columbine in the troupe's inset comedy.
Alan Mayall's Canio was a bluff fellow attired like a fairground barker, outwardly rather buffoonish but dark and passionate in his loves and hates. His light, flexible tenor voice, musicianly though not too powerful, would, I imagine, grace many of Rossini's roles. Yet it proved capable of cutting like a blowlamp through the night air in the opera's tremendous confrontational climax.
Mark Millidge brought a touch of distinction to the secondary tenor of Peppe (Harlequin in the play), and Jonathan Prentice completed a first-rate cast as the lovesick Silvio.
Last modified 25th March 2002
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