San Diego, CA---Opening night at the opera is always filled with excitement, sparkle and bubbly. No exceptions here at the San Diego Civic Theatre for the opening night audiences at this year’s 49th season of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci”. Last seen in our fair city in 2008 it is played along side “Cavalleria Rusticana” by Pietro Mascagni.
Both are one-act operas and seem to fit together.
Both take place in poor villages in southern Italy and both sing of love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and ultimately death. This time however, “Pagliacci” is not paired with another opera and must stand on its own. It does sort of.
The main players in "Pagliacci" are Canio (Frank Porretta) Pagliacci, the clown and his wife Nedda, (Adina Nitescu) who tries his patience. The other clown Tonio (Stephen Powell) the fool, offers a Prologue to the audience of what they are about to see. Powell’s strong and emotionally filled baritone voice signaled a treat in store for us as he takes us through the prologue. Rounding out the cast are Joel Sorensen’s Beppe and David Adam Moore as Silvio, Nedda’s secret lover.
For about eighty or so minutes (one act) a story unfolds amid the excitement of the towns folk all geared to enjoy the performances of the commedia troupe’s arrival the next day. All at once, one feels the conflicts building as soon as the troupe enters the city when an off-handed remark about Nedda is bandied about and Canio goes berserk claiming that ‘nothing related to his wife is a joking matter”.
On opening night as the tension could be felt between Nedda, Canio and Tonio but the chemistry fell by the wayside. There was none. Romanian soprano Nitescu’s Nedda the sought after and manhandled singular star (“Ah, you little birds singing” done to perfection) and American tenor Canio’s rants, never felt real. They circled the wagons, he threw temper tantrums, but there was no connection.
It was s totally different story between David Adam Moore (American baritone) and Nitescu who was in rare form. Both Moore and Nitescu were thoroughly convincing as their love making scenes played out on the floor with Moore’s Silvio and his bare chest much more appealing than either Tonio or Canio, I imagine
Things go from bad to worse, as Nedda has to stave off Tonio’s advances, Canino’s jealousy and Silvio’s demands that she elope with him immediately after the show. And while Nedda is at the center of this attention, it is the violence and conflict between the men in her life that become the core of this tragic story.
Sadly Porretta does little to help his cause both vocally and emotionally. His temper gets the best of him all the time and he apparently saved his wonderful tenor voice for his one big aria. His centerpiece “Vesti la guibba”, one of opera’s most beautiful arias and one that is probably on every tenor’s to record list was simply beautiful and emotionally fulfilling. That did bring tears to my eyes.
Director Andrew Sinclair, no stranger to San Diego made his debut in 2000 and returned again for the spectacular “Aida” in 2001, does a fine job of moving the large opera chorus easily around the stage, making eye pleasing stage pictures. It was especially satisfying to see so many young folks thoroughly engaged, enthusiastic and mingling effortlessly among the adults. Chorus and orchestra, under conductor Yves Abel’s baton, who made his debut here last year in “Daughter of the Regiment”, sounded full bodied and energetic captivating the audience with a sense of authority.
John Coyne designed the sparse set, Ed Kotanen's costumes are fitting for the period and Michael Whittfield'd lighting is suitable. While this production of "Pagliacci" might not be the best seen so far, (it's scheduled every so many years) it's still worth a look just to hear Porretta sing "Vesti la guibba".
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Jan.28th, 31st, Feb. 2nd
Organization: San Diego Opera
Where: 1200 3rd Ave. Downtown
Ticket Prices: $45.00 and up
Venue: Civic Theatre