On Stage: Opera Australia’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci

The cast of Opera Australia’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci must have been exhausted yet exhilarated after opening night at Art Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre.

Dragana Radakovic as Santuzza, Dominica Matthews as Mamma Lucia, Diego Torre as Turridu and the Opera Australia Chorus in Cavalleria Rusticana.

Dragana Radakovic as Santuzza, Dominica Matthews as Mamma Lucia, Diego Torre as Turridu and the Opera Australia Chorus in Cavalleria Rusticana.*

I certainly was emotionally exhausted after watching the two operas, which have the themes of jealousy, lust, passion, betrayal and death, play out on the stage!

At the same time I was also exhilarated thanks to the performance of the cast. Given the audience reaction at the end of night, I’m sure the cast also felt this exhilaration.

As I hadn’t seen these operas before I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I discovered the two operas were written by different composers. Pietro Mascagni wrote Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo wrote Pagliacci. As both operas are quite short they are usually performed together.

Dragana Radakovic as Santuzza and the Opera Australia Chorus in Cavalleria Rusticana.

Dragana Radakovic as Santuzza and the wonderful Opera Australia Chorus in Cavalleria Rusticana.*

In this new joint Opera Australia/ Royal Opera House, Göteborg Opera Sweden and La Monnaie Brussels production, Italian director Damiano Michieletto intertwines the plots of both operas.

He sets each story in the same rural village in the 1980s where the villagers are preparing for Easter and are looking forward to the play Pagliacci, which is coming to town.  Several characters in Cavalleria Rusticana appear in the background of Pagliacci and vice versa.

In Cavalleria Rusticana, Turiddu is found dead in the street — but who should his grieving mother blame? Is it his spurned lover, Santuzza, his married mistress, Lola or Lola’s jealous husband Alfio? Gradually we discover who is responsible for his death and why.

Samuel Dundas as Silvio and Anna Princeva as Nedda in Pagliacci.

Samuel Dundas as Silvio and Anna Princeva as Nedda in Pagliacci.*

In Pagliacci, a group of performers are presenting a comedy about a cuckolded husband and his beautiful, flirtatious wife. But life runs very close to art for this troupe. With another actor pulling the strings off stage, acting is suddenly a deadly game.

While the storylines of both opera are rather depressing, the cast’s performance on opening night was most definitely uplifting.

José Carbó as Tonio and Diego Torre as Canio in Pagliacci.

José Carbó as Tonio and Diego Torre as Canio in Pagliacci.*

One of my favourite Opera Australia performers, Diego Torre, magnificently performed the most challenging roles of Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana and Canio in Pagliacci.  To play two different and rather emotional characters in two operas on the one night must be extremely demanding. But he did so with much skill. The applause from the audience for Pagliacci’s best known piece Vesti la giubba showed he excelled in meeting the composer’s instruction that it be sung violently with torment and great expression!

José Carbó must have been equally challenged playing two such different roles as Alfio in Cavalleria Rusticana and Tonio in Pagliacci, but again his great acting and singing talents came to the fore.

Samuel Dundas as Silvio and Anna Princeva as Nedda in Pagliacci.

Samuel Dundas as Silvio and Anna Princeva as Nedda in Pagliacci.*

Other performers showcasing their internationally renowned skills  included Serbian born Dragana Radakovic as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana and Russian singer Anna Princeva as Nedda in Pagliacci. They were expertly supported by Dominica Matthews and Sian Pendry in Cavalleria Rusticana and Samuel Dundas and John Longmuir in Pagliacci and the wonderful Opera Australia Chorus in both operas.

My companion for the night, who had previously seen a Met Opera performance of the two operas, rated this production equal to it, particularly citing the imaginative staging. We both understood why Michieletto’s production won the Olivier Award for Best New Opera in 2016.

Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are playing at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre during May. Visit Opera Australia’s website for more information and tickets.

*Photo credit: Keith Saunders

Jenny Burns attended the opening night of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci as a guest of Opera Australia.

Visit travelswithjb.com.au-live shows for more show reviews.

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