Friday, September 23, 2011


Opera Lyra Ottawa Presented Cavelleria Rusticana and Pagliacci at the National Arts Centre Southam Hall in Ottawa on Saturday, September 10 at 8 p.m. with additional performances on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, September 17

There were more empty seats than the producers probably hoped for at the opening of Opera Lyra Ottawa's twin-bill production of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. Although an evening of “Cav and Pag” used to be one of the staples of nearly every opera company, but in recent decades its star has fallen.

Why is that?

Perhaps it's because both operas have essentially the same plot. Cav and Pag tell of sordid yet plausible events, but how much adultery and bloody revenge do we need in an evening? Opera audiences are becoming more sophisticated bit by bit.

Cavalleria is widely, perhaps unfairly, considered the weaker of the two and opera companies tend to expend more of their usually finite resources on Pagliacci. So it was with this production.

There were many good things about the Cavalliera, chiefly the singing and acting. Richard Crawley was especially fine as Turiddu as was his opposite number, Lisa Daltirus, who sang Santuzza. The other principals were nearly as good, particularly Gae(aigu)tan Laperrie(grave)re who sang an Alfio not to be messed with.

The staging was a little wooden and the deployment of the chorus alternated between over-busy to virtually static. The costumes were not bad except for the one Wallis Giunta wore as Lola. In contrast to the black and other somber colours the other women were wearing, and would have worn in real life, she was dressed in bright colours and frequently had her shoulders bare. She is a slut of course, but it's inconceivable that she would advertise it like that.

Richard Buckley's musical direction was flaccid in Cavalleria, but more pointed and muscular in Pagliacci. In the latter, Michael Cavanagh's staging was effective, including the movements of the chorus.

Richard Leech was a superb Canio/Pagliccio, never hamming things up, never holding the high notes to show of the considerable beauty and power of his voice. And he did not shout or bellow the famous last words, “La commedia e(grave) finita.” He delivered them in a sinister whisper. Yannick-Muriel Noah was convincing as his wife, Nedda.

Gae(aigu)tan Laperrie(grave)re, the only principal to sing in both operas, played the combined role of the Prologue and the black-hearted Tonio. He was sinister and repulsive as the latter, but suitably animated and persuasive as the former.

Among the lesser roles, Jonathan Estabrooks' Silvio was particularly well sung and acted.

It was a shame that Cavalleria was not as well done as it should have been. A fair comparison between the merits of the two operas was scarcely possible. It's true that Pagliacci is more cleverly crafted, but Leoncavallo's musical language is very similar to Puccini's without having quite the same stamp of genius. Mascagni's melodies are more original and are endlessly beautiful.

Richard Todd for The Opera Insider

1 comment:

  1. Richard, before giving up on Cav 'n Pag, I invite you to come and see them done properly at the Met. Sadly, however, not this season. We have endless appetite for adultery and revenge! The production of Cav is exemplary with sets, costumes and staging which allow an audience member to feel like a citizen of that small village experiencing the drama, not just listening to music. It is totally transporting