BWW Reviews: Austin Lyric Opera Presents a Perfect PAGLIACCI
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by Jeff Davis
Joelle Zigman of CultureMap.com recently reviewed the same production of PAGLIACCI that I had the great pleasure of seeing this past weekend and described it as "slow."
"Opera is like molasses," she says. "It is painfully slow. Action takes forever to unfold. […]If you've never experienced the joy that is opera molasses, or maybe you just feel like getting dressed up and going out, Austin Lyric Opera's Pagliacci would be a great place to start."
Well, if Zigman thinks this production as "slow," I'm guessing she must drive her car at 150 miles per hour, as the production I witnessed was one of the fastest-paced operas I have ever seen. This production is a spectacular treat from start to finish.
As with most operas, the story here is fairly simple. Here, composer and librettist Ruggero Leoncavallo gives us a tale about a traveling troupe of commedia dell'arte clowns, led by Canio (Carl Tanner) and his wife Nedda (Danielle Pastin), who are about to present the folly of Pagliaccio, a man who is betrayed by his adulterous wife. Life imitates art when it is revealed that Nedda has taken a lover.
Director Garnett Bruce helms this production with complete reverence for its Italian roots. Everything is realistic, from the luscious Italian town square and the turn-of-the-century tailored suits (both by Roberto Lagana) to the warm, summery lighting by Kathryn Eader. And while it may be difficult to root these characters in reality while they are constantly singing, Bruce succeeds there as well. The confrontation between husband and wife is particularly jarring in its reality.
The cast Bruce has assembled is also very worthy of note. While he may not have the largest of roles with that of Beppe, one of the troupe's clowns, Philippe Pierce gets to showcase his fantastic voice, particularly in Act Two's show-within-the-show. Daniel Sutin is perfection as the lustful Tonio, and he has a spectacular, rich baritone voice. Corey McKern also delivers an incredible performance as Nedda's lover, Silvio. With Nedda, Danielle Pastin is a force to be reckoned with. She's a fabulous actress with a golden soprano voice which soars during her duet with McKern. And the leads here are supported by a cast of about 60 extraordinarily strong chorus members. The richness in their voices is absolutely remarkable.
But the true star of the show is Carl Tanner as Canio. Canio is indeed one of the toughest roles in opera. Not only is the role vocally demanding (his Act One aria "Vesti la Giubba" is a doozy) but it requires sufficient acting chops as well. Canio must be believable in his betrayal, his jealousy, and his violence. Despite the numerous challenges, Tanner showcases his splendid tenor voice and his acting skills with ease. He succeeds at breaking your heart without even breaking a sweat.
Whether you are an opera connoisseur or an opera virgin, Austin Lyric Opera's production of PAGLIACCI is a must see. The music is beautiful. The visuals are mesmerizing and stunning, and the cast is second to none. It's hard to come by an evening that is more enjoyable than this.
Run time: 2 hours, including one 15 minute intermission and 3 encores.
PAGLIACCI, presented by Austin Lyric Opera, plays The Long Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday, November 15th at 7:30pm and on Sunday, November 18th at 3pm. A free ½ hour lecture begins 1 hour prior to curtain. Tickets are $19 - $135. For tickets and information, visit www.austinlyricopera.org.
Photo by Kirk Tuck