The Organ

Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci

Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci ENO
September 20th

The organ turns up in a surprisingly large number of operas and often plays a key part in the action. This is certainly true of Richard Jones' new staging of Cavalleria Rusticana for ENO where the action all takes place within a battered village hall and the outside world is represented by the off-stage choruses and the church organ. It makes for a very claustrophobic approach, light years away from the normal happy peasants celebrating Easter. Instead we have a violent, honour-ridden society where death is brutal and sadistic rather than heroic. All of this is well supported by Mascagni's score and libretto even if it does make for a comfortable experience. Peter Auty is in splendidly Italianate voice as a spoilt womanising Turridu abandoned at the end by his long suffering mother, a tight lipped Kathleen Wilkinson. The other women in his life are both finely characterised with full romantic voices. Unfortunately the new translation by Sean O'Brien often feels stilted and lacks the sensitive flow of the score.

The second half could hardly have been more of a contrast. Lee Hall has created a new version of I Pagliacci which places the action somewhere in the late 1970s in a small northern town with a visiting 'celebrity' theatre group led by Mr Paxo (Canio). It is a brilliant realisation which carries us through with complete conviction. Characters are still easily identifiable with the original libretto yet are more credible for being so easily recognisable. As with Cav this is no chocolate-box image but verismo as intended. The final coup where Paxo blows his brains out is shocking and thrilling at the same time. When one adds to this a splendid troupe of singing actors the work could hardly fail. Geraint Dodd has all the virility of voice of Kenny(Canio) and is well matched by Mary Plazas Nelly. Christopher Purves Tony is a slimy creation in contrast to the macho virility of Mark Stone's Woody (Silvio). The massive sets bring a sense of the oppressive weight of the theatre on these characters as well as a prison-like quality to their actions. The final scene, where we are able to see audience and action as if on a split screen is remarkably effective. Richard Jones has often provided challenging stagings of works but here, particularly in Pagliacci he has more than justified himself. Added to this Edward Gardner found a romantic verve in his orchestra and chorus, often coming close to rawness without vulgerisation, which was maintained throughout the evening. A palpable hit!