Vancouver Opera

Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana / Leoncavallo's I pagliacci

Dates 10, 13, 15, 17 November 2007 @ 19:30 Venue Queen Elizabeth Theatre

Cavalleria rusticana Turiddu Steven Harrison Santuzza Lori Phillips Alfio Gregory Dahl

I pagliacci Canio John Mac Master Nedda Sally Dibblee Silvio Etienne Dupuis Tonio John Fanning

Conductor Jonathan Darlington Director Joe McClain Scenic Designer Peter J. Hall Lighting Gerald King

Reviewer J H Stape

Cav & Pag, as they are affectionately known, are, well, the ham and eggs of opera: these two melodramas simply go together. The opening production of Vancouver Opera's 2007-08 season was vocally and visually stunning, with first-rate casts, gorgeous sets, luminous support from the orchestra and chorus, and high drama all on offer. If you don't have already have a ticket, get one -- quick.

Cavalleria rusticana's raw passions were brilliantly conveyed by a flawless cast. Steven Harrison's off-stage opening aria was spine-tingling and set the tone for a highly coloured characterization: his edgy, borderline neurotic Turridu, overmastered by passions, was deeply conflicted, the character's emotions conveyed in fine, intelligent singing.

Lori Phillips was a superb Santuzza, her stunning voice flooding the auditorium like a tsunami. She also dominated the stage with top-flight acting skills. She was well matched vocally and dramatically by her rival, the adulterous Lola, played with panache by Majorie Poirier. Gregory Dahl was a powerful Alfio, deftly sketching in his character with appropriate menace, while the Mamma Lucia of Marcia Swanston was effective as a woman caught up in between dark passions and rivalries she is unable to comprehend.

Pagliacci is a lot more than its Canio, though its principal role is a pinnacle in the tenor repertoire. John Mac Master, who has assayed it for the Metropolitan Opera, gave it his all, the character's monumental jealousy and anger masterfully conveyed through big gestures and a big sound. His "Vesti la giubba" was carefully thought out, at once deeply interior and heart-on-your-sleeve, and was thoroughly acted as well as generously sung.

Sally Dibblee's Nedda was never less than touching: she suggested immense vulnerabilty and, when needed, iron force, her singing and acting powerful and appealing. She and Etienne Dupuis, a handsome and sexy Silvio, simply tore up the stage in their love duet, Dupuis's singing full of character, his voice warm and truly seductive.

John Fanning's Tonio was perhaps its most successful in the "Prologo," his later contribution somewhat understated, though the near-rape of Nedda found him on top form, so to speak. Philippe Castagner's able Beppe was well crafted throughout but had signal charm in the play scene.

The sets from Edmonton Opera were "traditional," as was the direction, the story lines allowed to flow straightforwardly without "contemporary" additions or any clutter. Director Joe McClain had an easy time managing casts of natural actors who clearly knew their craft and practiced it with so much conviction.

The Vancouver Opera Orchestra always plays well these days, but when Jonathan Darlington conducts, sheer magic happens in the pit, and he urged out nuanced playing that was balanced and relentlessly committed.

This was a brilliant season opener: Vancouver Opera has been on a roll for several years now and is just one of the best shows in town. Pity about the venue: this talented company deserves much, much better than the Queen E., the economy class of concert halls. Rumours of renovation persist, but the wrecking-ball would be a mercy, for silk purses, as the adage has it, can't be made of sows' ears.

© 2007 J H Stape