Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci was written just over 125 years ago, and with a duration of only about 65 minutes, is considered a very short opera. While usually double-billed, the choice to perform it on its own was a nice surprise and perhaps the reason more children were in the audience.
The resident company and orchestra were on point and did justice to this truncated opera. Baritone Anthony Clark Evans, as Tonio (the fool in the acting troupe) opened the performance stating, ‘I am the prologue’. There were some members of the audience who gave him a standing ovation for his opening dialogue. He was exquisite and completely captivating and it is surely a sad fact that we won’t be seeing him again this season. Setting the scene, the character of Tonio explains the roles of the three men vying for the attention of Nedda, sung by Maria Natale: her husband, Canio(Cooper Nolan), part of the company, Tonio(Evans) and Silvio(Emmett O’Hanlon), her secret lover. Setting the scene, the curtain rises and we watch the scene play out, ‘on the stage’ and ‘off it’. The line between the ‘real life’ lives and the parts they play on the stage are blurred throughout the opera, eventually leading to a blow up in front of the whole town during a performance.
Bound towards this impending doom, Natale played a great femme fatale and was particularly skilled in the over-the-top acting required of her in the acting troupe scenes. Her doll-like character and exaggerated facial expressions were perfection. With the entrance of her lover, we saw her softer side and her extended love scene with O’Hanlon as Silvio caused a notable murmur of note throughout the usually-hushed audience. The candor and frankness of the intensity O’Hanlon brought to the role was palpable and was one of the more believable moments of the night. Nolan’s eventual transformation into a mad man when he discovers he’s been made a cuckold was horrifying in the best way possible.
The opera closes with another aside to the audience from Tonio who says, ’There is no respite for your ears or your heart.’