Review: WNO – Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci @ WMC

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Welsh National Opera – Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci

Wales Millennium Centre
Thursday 26th May 2016

WNO is now the ripe old age of 70 years. They’ve come a long way from rehearsing above a garage, with a choir made up of miners and locals. All together, they are one of the best things in Wales and they never stop creating moving, ambitious and thought provoking work. Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci are two operas close to their hearts. These two verismo (or realist) operas were their first theatrical engagement at The Prince of Wales Theatre in Cardiff. This is a revival of a production done in 1996 and has also been major success story. A shame not to see a trailer online for the these two, as is often the promotion with WNO.

These two short Italian operas are traditionally paired together and are usually abbreviated simply to Cav & Pag. The first, Cavalleria rusticana by Mascagni is a sublime rendering of “rustic chivalry” and is famous for it’s passionate Intermezzo, in the middle of its only act. The set here is as vivid as any old Sicilian street scene, landscape like in it’s detail. Set on Easter Sunday, Turiddu is in love with Lola, the wife of Alfio the carter. Santuzza, a peasant girl, has also be charmed by Turiddu, but is heartbroken by his betrayal with Lola. In a rage, she approaches Alfio and tells of his wife’s betrayal. The two men duel, with tragic consequences. It is a lovely way to spend an hour and the finale is transfused with the utmost heartbreak and regret.

Whilst I find Cav having the better music, Pagliacci (Clowns) by Leoncavallo has tighter drama. A touring group of performers arrive in a village and plug their show for that same evening. Canio, the head act is married to Nedda, who also gets attention from young Silvio and Tonio, who has a leg in a metal cast. It’s no surprise that she has a fling with Silvio and Canio finds out. I’ll take or leave the music in Pag, but when Canio sings Vesti la giubba (Put on the costume) the opera comes into its own.

This telling moment of a performer having to brush aside the woes of life and put on the paint and costumes to make others feel happy (there is a famous addition of crying now in the aria). I can relate to this and it’s a painful and stirring half an aria (it’s sadly too short to be fully appreciated). Life and art intermingle in the beyond tense final scene. Canio and Nedda are putting their routine on and the tension of what is scripted and what is seeping out from their real life drama comes to a front. As always, it ends tragically and his great aria comes back one last time in the orchestra, to a gut wrenching end.

The cast are world class. Gwyn Hughes Jones is both Turiddu and Canio, proving he’s a mighty presence in opera in Wales. The gusto brimming from him is just joy for an audience to see. He falls so gloriously into the Italian opera tenor, that we want him to sing more in Cardiff. David Kempster also doing duo roles as Alfio and Tonio, makes the perfect antagonist in both works. His shouting “la comedia!!!” is a chilling remark to the hair raising end of one of opera most iconic pieces (the sad clown of opera is instantly recognisable).

As Santuzza, Camilla Roberts offers an interpretation of true weight: the heart break, the jealously and the regret all haunt her in the delivery. Woeful Nedda is Meeta Raval, in a part she fits very well and brings much clout to the it. With Silvio, Gyula Nagy makes the best of this bit part and a second rate aria, with a great, if brief stage presence.

The pairing of the these two opera is masterful and each story compliments the other in its love triangle/rectangle.

Italian opera at its finest.

Here’s to many more years for WNO!

Rating: 4 stars

WNOs autumn season is celebrating Shakespeare 400 with the UK premier of The Merchant of Venice, along with new productions of Macbeth and Kiss Me Kate.

Image: Photo credit Bill Cooper — WNO website

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