We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Daniel Cardona and cast of I Pagliacci at SOPAC
It was an out-of-state journey but it was worth it to hear one of our favorite realismo operas with a fine cast of worthwhile singers.  As Founder of the Martha Cardona Theater, Daniel Cardona has a keen ear for good voices and tonight proved himself to be a fine director as well, in a semi-staged production of Ruggero Leoncavallo's beloved 1892 opera which deals with the theme of life imitating art.

The composer claimed that his libretto was based upon the murder of one of his family's servants when he was a child, but a French playwright believed he stole the story and sued him for plagiarism. We may never learn the truth.

The action takes place in Calabria a few decades earlier.   Nedda, sung by the exciting soprano Kristin Sampson, is married to Canio, the head of a troupe of traveling actors (sung with ringing tone by Mexican-Italian tenor Mauricio Trejo).  The backstory is that he found her starving in the streets and gave her a profession and matrimonial legitimacy.

He is a good-hearted man but jealous and possessive.  When he learns from another member of his troupe, the crippled and embittered Tonio (performed with power by baritone Daniel Lickteig) that Nedda has been seen embracing one of the men of the town--Silvio (sung by the romantic lyric baritone Kevin Wetzel), his rage gets the better of him and intrudes upon that night's performance.

The performance, so popular in Southern Italy in that period, is one of commedia del'arte and the stock characters include Columbina, the flirtatious wife--enacted by Nedda; Pagliaccio, the cuckolded husband--enacted by Canio; Arlecchino the lover--enacted by Beppe (interesting young tenor Chaz'men Williams-Ali); and the Servant Taddeo--enacted by Tonio.

Without scenery and with minimal playing area, the artists made the story clear and believable.  It was a directorial masterstroke to have Silvio sitting in the offstage audience.  When he observes (SPOILER ALERT) Canio losing control and stabbing Nedda he rushes onstage and suffers the same fate.  We in the audience feel more involved than usual since we were also subjected to Nedda selling us tickets for the "performance".

Highlights of the performance include Mr. Lickteig's prologue, Canio's heartbreaking "Vesti la giubba", Nedda's aria about freedom "Stridono lassu" and the affecting love duet between Nedda and Silvio as he persuades her to elope with him after the performance. The Italian was so clearly sung and the acting so effective that the occasional problems with the projected titles mattered little.

The production at the South Orange Performing Arts Center was a collaboration between the Martha Cardona Theater, The Mid Atlantic Opera Orchestra, conducted by Jason C. Tramm, and the Seton Hall University Chorus which sang the vesper chorus quite beautifully.

For more information on the upcoming Tosca, see their website.
www.themarthacardonatheater.com.  We are familiar with the cast and you won't be disappointed.

(c) meche kroop

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