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Spectacular Pagliacci stands alone

Los Angeles
Los Angeles Opera
09/11/2005 -  and 14, 17, 21, 24, 29 to 1 October 2005
Ruggero Leoncavallo : I Pagliacci
Roberto Alagna (Canio), Angela Gheorghiu (Nedda), Mariusz Kwiecien (Silvio), Alberto Mastromarino (Tonio), Greg Fedderly (Beppe), Julian Fielder (First Man), James R. Guthrie (Second Man).
Franco Zeffirelli (Production), Marco Gandini (Stage Director), Raimonda Gaetani (Costumer Designer), Alan Burrett (Lighting Designer),
Stuart Canin (Los Angeles Opera Concertmaster), William Vendice (Chorus Master), Anne Tomlinson (Artistic Director, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus).
Nicola Luisotti (Conductor)

The composers Leoncavallo and Mascagni who wrote I Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana, respectively, have interesting parallels. Both Italians achieved hallmark fame early on, but neither was able to uphold his notoriety in ensuing years.

Beginning as an accompanist for café-concerts, Leoncavallo had high hopes of creating a trilogy of the Italian Renaissance and the Medici family. Unfortunately, upon completion of the opera I Medici, it was already doomed as a failure. Despite this discouragement Ruggero Leoncavallo followed the methodological ways of his contemporary, and rode on the coattails of the successful Cavalleria Rusticana to give him his own instant claim to fame. To this day I Pagliacci continues to be the single work synonymous with the Leoncavallo name.

The famous director, Franco Zeffirelli, created the lavish yet realist set for this two-act drama. Leoncavallo originally set his work in a Calabrian village in August 1870, on the day of The Feast of the Assumption. Keeping the namesake day, Zeffirelli, instead, moved the year forward to the 1970’s. After a rather drawn out prologue by Alberto Mastromarino (Tonio), the curtain opened on an Italian tenement filled with color, movement, and action. Subtle anachronistic touches such as a neon bar sign, Vespa motor scooter, beaded curtains, and television sets, evinced a more universal appeal.

After last year’s triumphant performance of La Bohème, real-life couple Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna returned once again to take on the two leading roles in Pagliacci. Gheorghiu played Nedda with varying degrees of dramatic intensity, from the singing of the impassioned duet “E fra quest’ansie” with Silvio to her frightening plea to assuage the tirade of Canio in Act II, finding great favor with her audience.

Despite Luisotti occasionally drowning out Gheorghiu’s delicate soprano voice she, nonetheless, produced a powerful performance.

Alagna’s (Canio’s) searing aria “Vesti la giubba” had all the elements of deep sentiment and sobbing, and brought down the house. Perhaps even more poignant was his jealous outbreak (“No, Pagliaccio non son”), astonishing the gathered townspeople before the fatal stabbing of his wife and lover. A standing ovation for the sweetheart couple demonstrated overwhelming approval.

Keep an eye out for Mariusz Kwiecien whose rendition of Silvio had fire, energy, and drive. It is exciting to see voice and acting combined in a noteworthy artist.

Rounding out the performance were those who supported the leading roles in their bit pieces: Greg Fedderly (Beppe), Julian Fielder (First Man), and James R. Guthrie (Second Man).

This year’s spectacle would not be complete without the expertise of Marco Gandini (stage director), William Vendice (chorus master), and Anne Tomlinson (artistic director, Los Angeles children’s choir). These three joined forces to bring the sets to life, and captivated everyone with an endless array of sheer excitement and sparkle.

Pagliacci, normally performed alongside sister Cavalleria Rusticana, was here a single bill. Luisotti took it upon himself to transform the traditional one hour and ten minute tragedy into a two hour extravaganza.

Somewhat lagging at times, it still makes for a great evening of verismo opera. .

Christie Grimstad



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