Michielotti returns triumphantly

16 Dec

It’s more than 25 years since the ROH last did Cav and Pag.  I missed them then and also the WNO visit with the pair in the 1990s and simply refused to pay the prices the ROH were charging for the 2003 revival of Pagliacci.  So the performance that I saw on 15th December was the first time that I’ve seen them in that theatre.  It was also only the fourth time time that I’d seen them in, pretty much, 4o years of going to the opera.

I think this says a couple of things.  First, it has been genuinely quite difficult to get to productions of them here in that time  – pretty much a 20 year gap at ENO and only the WNO production in the regions.  I suppose that, done properly, they don’t necessarily make for a cheap evening.  But, also, I don’t actually enjoy them very much as pieces.  They’re effective enough (though I feel that Cav goes on a bit) and there are some good musical numbers in them, but I don’t feel that there’s a lot to them.  There doesn’t seem to be the same scope for exploring ideas or motivation that you find in other pieces and I find it difficult to get interested in the characters.  They depend on powerful stagings and interpretations.

They got them here.  Damiano Michielotti decided not to do a Guillaume Tell on them and simply played the pieces pretty straight and with real intelligence.  He’d updated them to the present in a fairly timeless Sicilian village.  The sets looked absolutely convincing and were beautifully detailed.  The chorus acted marvellously and, again looked the part.  A revolve enabled different locations to be seen and worked particularly well in Pagliacci where, for the last scene, he distinguished between the real emotions going on by having much of the play within the play acted out offstage while doubles played to the audience.  He gently suggested links between the operas – posters for the play are posted in Cav and Silvio and Nedda fall in love during the intermezzo.  In Pag, Mamma Lucia and Santuzza are reconciled during that intermezzo.

Above all, he got really strong acting performances out of his cast.  The emotions were clear and overwhelming and you were carried along by the narrative and the strength of the individual performances.  It’s interesting that some of the most successful productions in London in recent years have been of verismo operas.  Directors seem to have a feel for them and an ability to make them work on their own terms.

We had a really strong cast.  Aleksandrs Antonenko sang both Turiddu and Canio.  Reviews suggested an uneasy opening night for him.  By this performance whatever problems there had been struck me as being resolved and he seemed fully into both roles and sang pretty tirelessly, putting the text over well and creating the agony of Canio and the fecklessness of Turiddu.  If we can’t have Kaufman, he will do very nicely indeed.

Dimitri Platanias doubled Alfio and Tonio and was excellent.  As Tonio particularly, he had the opportunity to display his rich, ideally strong baritone.  He acted the embittered Tonio strongly, credibly and had just the right sardonic relationship with the audience – the last line was chillingly done.  He’s becoming a major singing actor and I hope we’ll see more of him.

Luxury casting gave us Eva-Maria Westbroek as a sympathetic, intense Santuzza, singing really beautifully and Carmen Gianattasio as a superbly acted and really attractively sung Nedda.  She seemed to me to have just the right sort of voice for the role – light enough to be seductive and innocent but with the strength to ride the orchestra.  She created a beautifully frustrated character.

There was a gem of a cameo from Elena Zilio as Mamma Lucia – looking like the classic Italian old woman and managing the love and heartbreak and doubt in the role perfectly – she very nearly stole the show.  Martina Belli made a glamorous Lola, Benjamin Hulett a strong Beppe and Dionysios Sourbis was an attractive Silvio singing his duet with Nedda very strongly indeed.

Chorus was in stout form and was clearly absolutely with the production.  Pappano conducted the orchestra marvellously – the music sounded “right” with the production.

The joy of this evening was to see a performance where everything seemed to come together: supremely intelligent directing and conducting, a great cast and a technically complex production that made a really good case for the operas.  I imagine that the ROH can revive these reasonably often – but it needs to make sure that the revivals have the same care lavished on them as they had for this series.  In any case, Mr Michielotti is welcome to return.

 

 

 

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