Pagliacci gets a new stage buddy

2013-06-01_VTO_clipThis month, Vineyard Touring Opera took an unusual approach to the ubiquitous Pagliacci double-bill:  rather than pairing the beloved one-act with another, they unearthed the original source for Verdi’s Rigoletto and did just one essential section to open the show — Act IV — then paired the act with the same section from the original play by hugo_victor_cropVictor Hugo (pictured).  (Yeah, that’s right — Rig and Les Miz have the same papa, folks — it’s surprising that even many pro musicians aren’t aware of that bit of history.)

Verdi’s Rigoletto

The purpose of this twofer isn’t to explain the story — the production has perfectly good supertitles, with translation by Phyllis Elliott and Dennis Gersten, to serve that purpose.  But a chance to see a bit of the source and witness how closely Verdi followed it was an interesting exercise.  (Hugo was one of the greatest writers of his or any time, after all.)  This construction, called “From Script to Score” by its creators, is an innovative educational endeavor, and would also lend itself very well to school presentations.  But the juxtaposition does pose considerable dramatic and vocal challenges for the performers.
It isn’t often that opera singers are asked to perform spoken dialogue at all, and even short bursts can prove problematic for those without much experience in straight theater.  Doing an entire act of a play is highly out-of-the-ordinary, and for the most part, the cast did a nice job of straddling the fence of medium.  Even in the back, we could hear most of the dialogue readily, and the arc of the drama was clear.
But it was the singing that left the big impression, and seeing so many Listers (indicated by *) perform so well did my little heart much good.  (NOTE:  Roles below are noted according to the Verdi score, as they’ll be more familiar to most of our readers.)

Verdi, in general, is tricky for a developing or “emerging” voice to maneuver, and the generally youthful cast did an admirable job with this familiar but difficult show.

As usual, E. Scott Levin* stood apart.  This extremely busy baritone works constantly, and his voice is stronger and more resonant with every new hearing.  Based on what we heard of Act IV, Scott is ready to take his Rigoletto anywhere he’s called.

Samantha Geraci-Yee*, one of our newest members, shimmered and broke hearts as Gilda, and mezzo-soprano Sarah Beaty*’s Maddalena was vivacious and full of mischief.  C.T. Jones‘ had some powerful moments as the scheming Sparafucile.  His young voice shows promise in a role usually played by far more experienced singers.

Shawn Taylor*, as the Duke, showed dramatic flair and although it wasn’t his best performance, his bright pleasing tenor was well apparent.  (Off days happen — our spies told us that Taylor’s work in Sunday’s CPE Bach concert was “spectacular”!).  We’ll look forward to  hearing them all again, as this “taste of Rig” was very enjoyable.
Pagliacci, the stage standard best known for clown makeup and bloody revenge, is often performed, but often done badly.  Well within reach in terms of cast numbers and production costs, this chestnut still includes some powerhouse roles that have launched careers, and the leads in this production really shone.

Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci

James Salazar, as the lead clown Canio, sounds better than ever, singing the wide-ranging and deeply emotional “greatest hit” of Vesti la giubba so well that he evokes early memories of great opera recordings from a bygone era.
Natalie Salins is lively and captivating as Nedda, the beautiful and charming girl who only wants to find true love, and is instead loved by everyone — to a tragic end.  With a strong background in theater, her acting was as strong as her lovely voice.
Locally lauded baritone Bernardo Bermudez has already gained a reputation for consistently beautiful vocal craft, and his charismatic and sincere Silvio shows him to be a natural romantic lead — the audience was with him from the start, rooting for the lovers where some portrayals might lean toward the playboy.
It was Terry James Welborn, as the lovestruck then vengeful Tonio, who stole the show.  His “these tears aren’t real” introduction drew us in in a moment in his opening speech, and then we were treated to strong singing paired with completely engaging acting.  Welborn’s bio indicates that his career was previously interrupted for many years, but we’re so glad he’s returned to the stage.  (We got to see both Welborn & Salazar the next night in IOC’s Macbeth — read more about that show here.)
Finally, kudos to conductor Adil Mehta, whose clear direction of the orchestra and cast belied an obvious connection to Verdi’s creation, and led the show well.  It was a lovely afternoon, and we look forward to seeing this company grow and develop as they continue to provide such excellent opportunities for emerging artists.
NOTE:  This production was double-cast, so we cannot report on all of the performers.  Contact the company or check their website for the full cast list.

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