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And like Racovita, Materinco is still young by operatic standards. Flitting around like a particularly ugly Charles Laughton ('I know my deformity disgusts you but I too have feelings' -- a kind of ostensibly harmless echo of Canio's ominous 'The clown too is a man'), this Tonio had heart, yet also the sinisterness of a sly 12 year old, the sting of an annoyed wasp, the venom of a plotting spider; yet -- despite the chancing assault -- feels too canny for the 'bestiality' Nedda attributes to him ('your mind is as filthy as your body') : rather, an Iago, a Scarpia played buffo : playful, awesome and terrifying.

Tonio with Nedda (Columbine) clowning in the final scene of the Chisinau National Opera production of 'Pagliacci'

Moscow's State Circus lives on, just. Three Moldovan clowns led by the Moscow trained Ion Stanca produced some hysterically original turns -- a show in itself, and, like the efficient surtitles, a feather in Ellen Kent's cap (their act were less striking in Act II of La Bohème). The Silvio, Yuri Gisca, was not so good -- it's the weakest-sketched role anyway -- and Nedda's first aria, not helped by one of the violins' off-moments, was well received, but rendered uneven by a not too well controlled fast vibrato. The choruses throughout were phenomenally strong. There are numerous Wagnerian echoes in Pagliacci (quite apart from the through-composed structure), even though Leoncavallo had nominally shed his youthful Wagner enthusiasm; the brilliantly played two flutes, for instance, sound curiously like woodbirds.

Boris Materinco as Tonio (Taddeo) in 'Pagliacci'

The Harlequin costumes were as vividly dazzling as if they were were from a brand new Punch and Judy show, and the frozen tableau of the troupe of five (Canio/Pagliaccio centrestage, icy, Materinco's red mop-headed Tonio gaunt overhead, three facing, two rotated right -- a brilliantly simple piece of asymmetric stage blocking) was the kind of touch that made this worthy of the London stage.


Copyright © 11 February 2001 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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