Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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No Clowning Around

February 16, 2009

The cast of Pagliacci
Photo: Dan Rest/LOC 2009

Lyric Opera of Chicago kicked off a very good revival of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci on Saturday. Here’s the big news – you don’t need to wait around for Dolora Zajick to show up in order to see it. The incomparable Zajick will appear in the final four performances of this run as Santuzza in March. And while she is undoubtedly worth catching, there’s an even bigger reason to see this double bill. His name is Valdimir Galouzine. The Russian tenor has been making an increasingly larger name for himself in this country over the last few years and starred in the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production of Prokofiev’s The Gambler to enthusiastic reviews. He's one of the big stars to come out of the Mariinsky Theater and he is now in Chicago as Canio in Pagliacci where he rages with all the pain and humiliation you could want in this role. He’s powerful but still with vocal control and is a true star of the opera stage. The rest of the Pagliacci cast is excellent as well, including a beautiful and tortured Nedda from Ana Maria Martinez and the always superb Mark Delavan as Tonio. The setting has been updated to mid-20th century with a look straight out of Fellini's La Strada. A barren industrial landscape soon gives way to the garish neon colors of the carnival troupe complete with acrobats on stilts and jugglers. It's a powerful visual and one that lives up to its foreboding postscript as the final line goes to Tonio, as was Leoncavallo's original intention.

As devastating as this Pagliacci was, it clearly outpaced its opening act. Renato Palumbo and the Lyric orchestra and chorus gave a wonderful reading of Macagni's score for Cavalleria. However, the other elements on stage struggled a little to live up to their standard. The staging is eye-catching; though, as conventional as can be. In fact, it's hard to believe that the same original director, Elijah Moshinsky, and design team responsible for such a gripping Pagliacci could have created such a timid and comparatively plain first half. The Santuzza in these opening performances was Guang Yang who seemed to hit all the notes, but got bogged down in the acting department. There's only so much hand-wringing one can do over the course of an evening, and she was clearly trying to see exactly where that limit was. The fact that much of this seemed to happen a good 20 feet or more from whomever she was singing to onstage made the disassociation even greater. Still, things could pick up as the run goes along and with such a strong second half, it's easy to forgive minor transgressions. The production runs through March 27.


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