A double-bill of treachery and tragedy with the Sarasota Opera's Cav/Pag.
By Kay Kipling
It’s been only a few years since the Sarasota Opera last performed the double-bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, but I somehow missed that production, so it’s been many years since I’ve seen (and heard) these operatic tales of jealousy, infidelity and the whole dramatic mess that ensues when people behave very badly.
Certainly both operas could serve as cautionary tales to anyone planning an illicit affair; in the opera world, that sort of thing almost always ends in murder, occasionally of the double or triple variety. When will people learn?
In the Mascagni piece, set in a small Sicilian village (and you do know about Sicilians and revenge), the main characters are Santuzza, a peasant girl (Kara Shay Thomson) wronged by the man she loves, Turiddu (Gustavo Lopez Manzitti). Seems he took up with her only after his girlfriend Lola (Stephanie Lauricella) ditched him while he was away in the army to marry Alfio (Michael Corvino), the village teamster, but the two have now rekindled their old flame. Santuzza comes to beg Turiddu’s mother, Lucia (Cathleen Candia), to tell her where he is, so she may plead her case to him. But despite the fact that it’s Easter Sunday, a time when all in the village are thinking of spring and resurrection rather than love triangles (or quartets), Turiddu makes the mistake of rejecting poor Santuzza—and you can guess the outcome when she drops a certain bombshell in Alfio’s ear.
Thomson, who scored last season here as the tragic Tosca, is likewise powerful here, as a character whose main task is to implore, unsuccessfully. And Manzitti, with the large chorus, delivers a stirring rendition of the drinking song Viva, il vino spumeggiante. Some moments of the piece, especially early on, felt a big sluggish on opening night, but that’s partly the opera’s structure, which begins with an offstage song and likewise has an intermezzo where the stage stands empty.
But Manzitti’s better suited, I think, to the role of the tragic clown in Pagliacci. Here he is the betrayed one, by his wife Nedda (Aundi Marie Moore) and her local lover Silvio (Evan Brummel). The couple is part of a traveling commedia troupe, but Nedda has tired of the life and longs for escape (Moore is charming on her wistful birdsong number). She’s also being hounded by the troupe’s hunchback, Tonio (Corvino again), who wants her for himself and plans malicious mischief when he discovers her secret. The famous play-within-a-play scene of Act II, with the jealous Pagliacci losing all sense of the difference between reality and artifice, is still powerfully effective; and his Act I rendering of the Vesti la giubba solo touches the heart, as does of course the opera’s classic, chilling closing line, “La Commedia è finita!”
BTW, a program note: The Sarasota Opera’s 2010-2011 season has just been announced. The company will once again present a fall opera season, offering Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story, La Cenerentola, opening Oct. 29. The winter festival returns in February with four works, including the always popular La bohème, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Verdi’s I lombardi, and, in a new direction for the opera, the 20th-century opera by Robert Ward (based on Arthur Miller’s play), The Crucible. That’s part of the Sarasota Opera’s to-be-continued American Classics series, which looks to include Samuel Barber’s Vanessa and Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men in future seasons. For tickets to any of the operas this season, call 366-8450 or go to sarasotaopera.org.