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<<  -- 2 --  Malcolm Miller    VERISMO AL FRESCO


But Suor Angelica really is a one-singer-and-chorus show, and Catherine Mikic in the title role was certainly up to the challenge. Her duet with Yvonne Fontane as the cold-hearted, yet resilient voiced Principessa, was enthralling and impassioned. The whole final scene was riveting, Suor Angelica's dying aria glistening with pungency and lyricism, and above all conviction. This was Puccini at his most heartfelt, more inward intensity than bravura. The music's third based motifs, the sweet rather than the clashing motifs and harmony seemed all ideally channelled. Conti paced the orchestra artfully -- climaxes achieving their full power and clarity was all. Matt Lane's staging sustained both clarity and interest, with plenty of movement for the chorus and a symbolic use of the child's swing on one side of the garden, which swings on its own, in the angelic final section of the aria, beckoning Angelica to her paradise.

A scene from I Pagliacci. Photo: Michael Volpe
A scene from I Pagliacci. Photo: Michael Volpe

For the faster moving suspense of I Pagliacci, by contrast, Jamie Hayes' production kept the action moving with some neat use of the audience section, where chorus and soloists would occasionally run to, while Conti propelled a complex interaction of elements with many highpoints. Set in 1940s Italy, with the chorus watching a Hitchcock movie on a large screen, the division between fantasy and reality seemed all the more shifting and perplexing.

Tonio (Glenville Hargreaves) addressed the audience as Prologue with playful authority, his booming baritone well developed as later on in his role as agent provacateur of the drama of passion and jealousy. Indeed it was significant that the notion of desire and in particular unrequited desire coloured both these masterpieces of verismo -- in both cases leading to a not altogether happy ending, the point of the exercise being to portray gutsy emotion in realistic rather than whitewashed rose-colored glasses. Nevertheless Leoncavallo reserves his finest music for the various expressive contemplative moments. Nedda's lilting aria in Act I, which Caroline Childe sang with a resilient breadth and richness; similarly in her love duet with Silvio, a sweet toned tenor of Howard Quilla Croft. Beppe (Christopher Steel) made a notable vocal impression, notably in his serenade before the play within the opera, which flowed with delicate charm.

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Copyright © 11 July 2002 Malcolm Miller, London, UK



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