Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome – Elijah Moshinsky’s productions of Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci / Cav & Pag; conducted by Carlo Rizzi

Mascagni
Cavalleria rusticana – Opera in one Act to a libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti & Guido Menasci, after Giovanni Verga’s play, based on his story
Leoncavallo
Pagliacci – Opera in two Acts and a prologue to a libretto by the composer, based on the play Un drama Nuevo by Don Manuel Tamayo y Baus and the play La femme de tabarin by Catulle Mendès & Paul Ferrier

[both sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Cavalleria rusticana
Turiddu – Peter Auty
Santuzza – Camilla Roberts
Mamma Lucia – Anne-Marie Owens
Alfio – David Kempster
Lola – Rebecca Alonwy-Jones

Pagliacci
Tonio – David Kempster
Canio – Peter Auty
Nedda – Meeta Raval
Silvio – Gyula Nagy
Beppe – Trystan Llŷr Griffiths

Chorus & Orchestra of Welsh National Opera
Carlo Rizzi

Elijah Moshinsky – Director
Sarah Crisp – Revival Director
Michel Yeargan – Set Designer
Howard Harrison – Lighting Designer
Paul Woodfield – Tour Lighting


Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 9 June, 2016
Venue: Birmingham Hippodrome, England

Welsh National Opera's production of Cavalleria rusticanaPhotograph: Bill CooperAs part of its 70th-anniversary season Welsh National Opera has been touring its 1996 production of this famous double bill, ‘Cav’ and ‘Pag’. Elijah Moshinsky’s staging of the Mascagni is solid and traditional that allows the piece and the cast to work their magic without obtrusive tics – and very much welcome for that. The set shows a cramped Sicilian street, hung with floral banners for Easter-time, with mama Lucia’s bar set on the right. A flight of steps represents the hilly setting also realised.

Carlo Rizzi and the WNO Orchestra were on expressive form – warm strings, harps highlighted and with lush playing throughout – especially during the famous ‘Intermezzo’. Rizzi is not one to wallow languidly in the Sicilian sun – rather he propelled the action forward to demonstrate tensions in the community. The Chorus was in lusty voice.

Welsh National Opera's production of PagliacciPhotograph: Bill CooperHowever, a successful performance of ‘Cav’ relies heavily on the five principal singers and their interplay. Peter Auty, stepping in to replace an ailing Gwyn Hughes Jones (in both operas), was the heady-voiced caddish Turiddu – singing with great charm and then movingly in his final encounter with his mother, lacking only in brash youthful swagger. David Kempster acted a restrained Alfio, albeit one with a latent jealousy and violence – his warm baritone sounded almost too genial but he coped admirably with the awkward writing. Anne-Marie Owens was a warm-voiced somewhat serious Mamma Lucia – and she’s a great actress, every flicker of changing facial expression registered across the footlights. Rebecca Alonwy-Jones was a knowing and spiteful Lola. In the pivotal role of the romantically betrayed Santuzza, Camilla Roberts was at the centre of everything. Her voice has a gloriously rich middle register that brought much depth and charisma to the interpretation; and she, like all the cast, has excellent diction.

Moshinsky’s direction of Pagliacci is again time-honoured, but here Michael Yeargan’s settings are less evocative, the strolling players arriving in a van. Acrobats and clowns add to the business and the colour. Rizzi’s way with the score is theatrical if with much romanticism on show – especially in the entr’acte.

Vocally we were again on string territory. Kempster gave a vocally glowing account of the Prologue and then was as vicious a Tonio as could be wished for. Auty is better suited to Canio than Turiddu. His singing was exciting and convincing as the jealous, increasingly unhinged actor. Meeta Raval was a lustrous Nedda with a penetrating voice with a range of hues to it. She lavished great care and dynamic control, not least in duet with Gyula Nagy’s grittily suave Silvio. Trystan Llŷr Griffiths was the sappy-voiced Beppe and there was terrific singing and acting from the Chorus particularly when violence erupts in the open-air theatre.

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