The State Opera of South Australia. Festival Theatre. 18 Apr 2017
‘Uno squarcio di vita’ (a slice of life) perfectly sums up Director Andrew Sinclair, Conductor Nicholas Braithwaite and Designer Shaun Gurton’s riveting double bill; Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci.
Both are deeply intense Italian works, steeped in rich emotion, religion, passion and human frailty developed with extreme, loving care by Sinclair and Braithwaite. The themes of both may seem the same, but the nexus of love lost, illicitly found, and jealousy gives decidedly different focus of expression in each work. It’s this ability of the creative team to extract from Masacagini and Leoncavallo’s works the individual heart felt agony of the characters, making this double bill evening so engaging and emotionally rewarding, especially for those for whom Italian sung is like sweet nectar to the senses.
The lead in to Cavalleria Rusticana is delicious in its simplicity, both musically and in staging. Shaun Gurton's superb rustic villa setting, with two sides of buildings reaching towards each other backstage profoundly concentrates attention to the action, especially centre stage. Donn Byrnes’ lighting catches illicit shadows. Offstage, loving praise is sung of Lola (Catriona Barr). Turiddu (Rosario La Spina) appears in dawn light, followed closely by Santuzza (Jacqueline Dark) who was the woman he accepted a smoke from?
In that moment it is immediately clear Turiddu is a philanderer. Santuzza, his wronged partner, clutches a suitcase and Lola, a married woman who is Turiddu's conquest. It won’t end well, we know. How all goes wrong on this Easter Sunday, is what we want to know.
At the heart of Cavalleria Rusticana is a profound, heartfelt, achingly deep Catholicism in struggle with a culture of machismo and hard set attitudes to ‘fallen’ women. Turiddu chances it for the love of Lola on being caught by her husband Alfio (Jeremy Tatchell.) Santuzza powerfully appeals to the Virgin Mary in the face of total loss and humiliation in a bravado performance from Dark.
La Spina and Dark are perfectly matched in evoking a battle of deep love against an immoral one. They tear the stage up as Turiddu rejects her, only for Santuzza to again appeal, then resorting to informing Lola’s husband, after facing up to Lola in a terrific scene between a woman scorned and a woman scorning. Catriona Barr’s Lola is played with elegant and precise arrogance against Dark’s emotive righteousness. In song, they are rich in brittle contrast.
Jealousy begets rage, begets revenge, begets death.
Not content to wow an audience with one lead role, Rosario La Spina appears as Canio, the alcoholic, violent, jealous husband of Nedda (Joanna McWaters) in I Pagliacci. Leoncavallo's opera superbly offers opportunity to play off rage and blood soaked reality against a commedia play Canio’s Pagliaccio’s company tour to a favourite town.
Gurton's set, an open air theatre space which the touring players inhabit, is cage like with its scaffold stage providing the perfect space in which the unfolding, deranged blend of play and murder will unfold.
The love triangle of deformed clown drummer Tonio (Douglas McNicol), Nedda’s lover Silvio (Jeremy Tatchell), and Canio is pungent with cruelty, loss, hatred, desire, jealousy, and pain. The shifts between these states of feeling in this trio of twisted interrelationships are handled with admirably deft pacing both musically and dramatically.
Nedda’s cruelty laden rejection of Tonio after McWaters’ wonderful expression of Nedda’s fear, loneliness and desire for freedom encapsulates the vicious emotional dual lives these characters live as human beings and performers. McNicol is fantastic in his ability to enliven Tonio with a suffering misery and wickedness quite shocking in sung delivery.
It’s La Spina’s performance as Canio which carries I Pagliacci. In a demonstration of supreme sung characterisation expressing inner sorrow and loss one is moved to sympathy, for as much of the murderous, savage madness one reviles, La Spina is at once the sad clown and a man unhinged.
Brilliantly partnered with McWaters, La Spina’s progression from jealous drunk to murderous madman is spellbinding as he spirals closer and closer to murder.
State Opera’s double bill is sharp, pointed, pleasing operatic fare that pulls no punches, leaving one well sated.
When: 18, 20, & 22 April
Where: Festival Theatre
Photography by Ali Feo