Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Two cleverly threaded and ardently sung works in Opera Australia's emotionally vivid Cav and Pag: Herald Sun Review

Published online at Herald Sun Melbourne on 11th May and in print 12th May.

OFT-paired in a double bill, Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (1890) and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (1892) are fused tightly as one in Opera Australia’s emotionally vivid and stirring new production to Melbourne by Italian director Damiano Michieletto.

Popularly referred to as Cav and Pag, both works were originally set in Italy’s 19th century south where jealousy, revenge and murder erupt under the heavy air of religious festivity — Cav’s Easter morning in a Sicilian village, Pag’s Feast of the Assumption in Calabria.

Dragana Radakovic, Dominica Matthews, Diego Torre and OA Chorus
In Michieletto’s gritty reality, updated to a late 20th century singular setting, there is no censorship on violence, the characterisation is solid and the details employed that trickle through his worn rural Italian village suggest that tensions are spawning elsewhere about town. Where the price paid for infidelity is high, men are quick to throw a fist, alcohol fuels rage, women are victimised and religion is no innocent bystander.

Paolo Fantin’s spatially diverse sets revolve frequently to carry the action swiftly forward. Cav centres about the village bakery (run by Turrido’s mother, Mama Lucia) and its facing square, then transformed into a village hall and dressing room for Pag. Carla Teti’s costumes are place-perfect and Alessandro Carletti’s lighting adds austerity to a community harbouring deep and dark undertones.

The posters go up for Pagliacci’s upcoming performance in Cav as Pag’s Nedda and Silvio have their first encounter. Then, during the famous and reflective intermezzo that releases some of the tension, Nedda and Silvio meet in amorous rapture. Later, during Pag’s intermezzo, Cav’s Mamma Lucia and Santuzza put the past behind in a reconciliatory embrace.

The intertwining threads work marvellously to consolidate the two works’ similar themes but it is the exquisitely tuned cast that keep the tension alive.

Diego Torre as Canio and the Opera Australia Chorus, Pagliacci
Every new role tenor Diego Torre challenges comes with more fluid acting to accompany his richly lubricated vocals that resonated securely on opening night. Torre took on the rarity of performing two hot-tempered characters — as the stark-real, emotionally coiled and cheating Turiddu in Cav and the cheated on and vengeful Canio in Pag — and nailed the pair compellingly.

With full range strength and superb emotional shading, Dragana Radakovic was riveting as a hysterically fraught Santuzza. There’s years of life, local wisdom and heart in Dominica Matthews’ assuredly sung Mamma Lucia and Anna Princeva is intensely focused as she poignantly conveyed the frustration and dreamer in Nedda with her succulent and shapely soprano.

José Carbó’s solid, incisive and authoritative performance as Cav’s slick Alfio and Pag’s detestable Tonio, Sian Pendry’s seductive and shameless Lola, Samuel Dundas’s handsome and romantic Silvio and John Longmuir’s versatility as Bepe all fuelled the fire alongside an uplifting Opera Australia Chorus of villagers.

Patches of nervous brass aside, Orchestra Victoria worked superbly under conductor Andrea Licata’s sumptuously coaxed reading to include ample climactic vigour.

When the curtain goes up, Cav’s chilling fateful tragedy is immediate. By the time it goes down on Pag, you’ll be completely embroiled.


State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until May 20

Rating: four stars

Production Pictures: Keith Saunders.

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