Cav and Pag review from the Croydon Advertiser

Familiar old favourites share the Heathfield pleasures

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.