Cavalleria Rusticana, and I Pagliacci, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2013Posted on 5 June 2013
After an unusually long winter, walking across Holland Park for the opening of the OHP season it seemed that summer had really arrived.
As the orchestra played the Prelude to Cavalleria Rusticana the set opened to reveal Turiddu in bed with Lola, and after the chorus entered to sing of orange blossom, over a dozen cases of the fruit appeared on stage. This foreshadowed the denouement when Lola’s husband Alfio prepares to fight Turiddu by calmly peeling an orange, cutting the skin in a single strand with a very sharp knife. We never see the fight but we hear Lola’s scream, and we see Turiddu’s mother Mama Lucia standing front centre stage utterly devastated.
All very dramatic, and in the meantime the chorus gelled with the orchestra to produce an Easter hymn whose sound flooded over the audience. Gweneth-Ann Jeffers’ Santuzza interacted strongly with the Mama Lucia of Sarah Pring, and Peter Auty kept the performance on edge with a powerful portrayal of Turiddu. Good duet with Santuzza as he refuses to be a slave to her jealousy and a fine performance of the drinking song as he tries to grab the pretty Lola of Hannah Pedley. Stephen Gadd made a cheerful Alfio, whose affability suddenly turned to deeply felt anger when Santuzza opens his eyes, and the ear biting by Turiddu was very realistically done.
At the end of Cav the set opened to reveal the aftermath of the fight, and Pag opened with the same scene from which Stephen Gadd walked away to put on an eye patch and the clothes of Tonio. His introduction of the actors who will feign their tears, pain and suffering was terrific, introducing his company Commedia Rusticana, with Peter Auty returning from the dead as Canio and clearly harbouring suspicions of the attractive Julia Sporsén as his wife Lola. The link with Cav is emphasised by Beppe in Turiddu’s uniform, strongly sung by Andrew Glover, and as Lola’s secret lover Silvio, Korean baritone Chang-Han Lim made a superb OHP debut. When Canio loses control, stabbing his wife on stage, Silvio sweeps forward and the knife across his throat looked entirely realistic as it sliced an artery. This is opera verismo!
Conducting by Stuart Stratford gave urgency and dramatic intent to this fine double bill, though I would have preferred more sustained lyricism during the Intermezzo from Cav when the congregation leaves the church. Director Stephen Barlow’s method of combining the two operas worked very well, with good designs by Yannis Thavoris, and the subtle lighting by Mark Jonathan gave a dark hue to moments such as Peter Auty’s dramatically performed Vesti la giubba in Pagliacci while providing a bright glow to the happy expectations of adults and children in the stage audience for that opera.
Performances of this double bill continue until June 28 — for details of this and the rest of OHP’s 2013 season click here.