State Opera SA
Adelaide Festival Theatre
Until 22 Apr 2017

Review by Kylie Pedler

A double dose of passionate desperation and drama, successfully staged by Andrew Sinclair, this double bill, ‘Cavalleria rusticana’ and ‘Pagliacci’ should not be missed.

Ordinary people driven by their emotions on a journey to find the limits of their humanity; these two short operas explore the full spectrum of emotions.

While originally premiered two years apart, they have been performed frequently as a double bill due to their similarity in themes. Both narratives trigger violent, tragic endings because of the infidelity of a woman and the unfolding response of those around her.

Moving the setting to a strict Catholic, Sicilian town with a film noir design was genius for the first of the bill ‘Cavalleria rusticana’. Through set design (Shaun Gurton) and lighting (Donn Byrnes), a darker side of society is emphasised strengthening the passion and violence unfolding in the story. Gurton’s set is stunning, with angles for depth and clever use of entrances and exits to enable the necessary hovering in shadows, in a town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. In ‘Pagliacci’ there is a hidden touch of the previous set, initiating a flow between the two operas. Here the set is more spacious, and inviting as we welcome the travelling troupe of players.

The Adelaide Art Orchestra, under the baton of Nicholas Braithwaite, is superb and every passionate note is sensitively evolved. There are some particularly beautiful oboe, flute and piccolo melodies drifting through the first opera. Unfortunately, on opening night, in the second opera there were times when the balance between orchestra and vocals needed adjustment as soloists could not be heard.

Rosario la Spina, is superb. He meets the challenge of both tenor roles, with dramatic presence. He is arrogant as Turridu and intermingles nuances of bravado with despair as Canio. Jeremy Tatchell, also appears in both operas in two very different roles, as the betrayed, jealous Alfio and love interest Silvio. As Silvio, Tatchell, has a greater opportunity to shine, andhis warm baritone voice would win the love of any woman (not just Nedda).

Joanna McWaters (Nedda) and Adam Goodburn (Beppe) hold their own. The light-hearted interaction and choreography between McWaters and Goodburn as their commedia dell’arte parallels, Columbine and Harlequin, is an entertaining release from the dark tragedies unfolding.

The chorus, under the direction of Timothy Sexton, is in fine tune. The Easter hymn brilliant.

Yet, despite the talented leads and chorus, Jacqueline Dark, as Santuzza, is the standout, portraying a character of tortured complexity and heartbreaking emotion, while singing with pitch perfect beauty. Her amazing stamina and control, powerful top notes and raw emotion are breathtaking.

A fantastic production, with storylines that still ring true today.