Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci
Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo
English National Opera
The London Coliseum
My word, how the tiny Sicilian village has changed since I was last there a few years ago!
Mascagni's evergreen opera, Cavalleria Rusticana is of course set among the rural community storyteller Guiseppi Verga knew so well. Today's manifestation however, courtesy of the brilliant stage director Richard Jones and designer Ultz, is the scene for ENO's first new London production since 1986.
Gone is the hillside backcloth overlooking the village. Gone, too, the narrow streets and the cassocked choristers walking in procession to the Easter Mass.
Just as we may be wondering where on earth we are, the silken voice of Jane Dutton's impressive Santuzza soars powerfully above the large choir in the familiar Easter Hymn.
We may be in a strange country, the stage resembling the interior of a large factory rather than the precincts of a church - but at least we are in the land of Mascagni and his glorious music, recapturing glamorous nights of Grand Hotel and great performances of yore reaching right back to Rome and the Shaftesbury Theatre 100 years ago.
Opposite Jane Dutton is the powerful tenor of Peter Auty (Turiddu) with two fine mezzos, Kathleen Wilkinson (Lucia) and Fiona Murphy (Lola).
Baritone Roland Wood impresses as the rival, Alfio, and the chorus work, as expected in this piece, is also impressive - if only we could decide just what they were about with those cardboard boxes?
But if "Cav", as the first half of these heavenly twins is affectionately known, seems altered in Sean O'Brien's translation, wait until you see the new account of Pagliacci by Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall.
Of the two, the transformation here is the more radical. A great move for the younger generation who, one hopes, will respond to this fresh revival in droves.
After all, instead of the traditional, now seldom seen, circus colour, with the backbiting taking place between caravans, we now have screaming bobbysoxers lined up outside an urban theatre, eagerly awaiting early doors for the appearance of "Mr Paxo". Yet, there will certainly be those not so sure, for whom the loss of the politically doomed circus is something to grieve rather than celebrate, for audiences who remember the big top are themselves vanished almost beyond recall.
Baritone Christopher Purvis, in the guise of Tony, as we now meet him, appears through the curtains bespectacled, almost businesslike, to deliver the famous prologue which is so impressive, we begin to think little has changed.
Thereafter, however, we learn that it is the sad world of Miller and Hancock that we are exploring, rather than that of Pierrot and Harlequin.
Somehow, too, the famous Leoncavallo score seems strangely at odds with the modern tragedy to which we are inescapably moving. Kenny (or Cannio) is sung by Geraint Dodd with the lovely soprano Mary Plazas as Nelly (Columbine) and an excellent performance by baritone Mark Stone as her lover Woody, erstwhile Harlequin.
Whether you like your mischief beneath big tops or in and out of seedy dressing rooms, however, human life we can testify is still here - until that is, "the tragedy is finished!"
This production may be seen at The Coliseum on September 26th and 28th (matinee only at 3.00 pm), and on October 3rd, 7th, 11th, 15th (sign interpreted), 17th, 21st and 23rd all at 7.30 pm
Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole