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Pagliaccio Rusticano

Gustavo López Manzitti and Cristina Nassif, I Pagliacci, Virginia Opera, 2007, photo by Anne Peterson

Gustavo López Manzitti and Cristina Nassif, I Pagliacci, Virginia Opera, 2007, photo by Anne Peterson
Virginia Opera's production of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, double-billed as always with Mascagni's lesser work of verismo shock, Cavalleria Rusticana, came for a last weekend at the George Mason University Center for the Arts in Fairfax. These operas are not among the most refined operatic delights, but they are designed to please musically and inspire not very subtle emotions. They are good options for local opera companies because a "Cav/Pag" will fill the house, but one takes a chance when casting singers on a smaller company's budget. This production was hit and miss in that department but over all a pleasant enough experience.

Other Reviews:

B. J. Atkinson, One of These Things Is Not Like the Other (Portfolio Weekly, March 20)
-- "It’s time to put the show [Cav] on the shelf…stick it up there with Norma and A Masked Ball." [Is Norma really on the shelf?--Ed.]

T. L. Ponick, Tales of carnage among the knaves (Washington Times, March 23)

Daniel Neman, Murder, lust, envy make for splendid opera (Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 24)

Mark J. Estren, Still Great, but 'Cav/Pag' Need Time Apart (Washington Post, April 2)
Baritone Andrew Oakden had the most consistent success over the two operas, as the jealous husband in Cav and especially as the deformed, lecherous Tonio in Pag. (Oakden will make his New York City Opera in the same pairing this fall.) The soprano roles were divided, with Jane Dutton as a dark-toned Santuzza and Cristina Nassif, a Washington-area soprano whom I interviewed for DCist last year, as Nedda. Nassif's voice is on the reedy side, with a vigorous vibrato, and her physical appeal and dramatic instinct served her well. The most beautifully sung and dramatic scene of the evening was Nassif's love scene in I Pagliacci with Silvio, sung by the equally handsome and full-voiced baritone Michael Todd Simpson.

Gustavo López Manzitti sang both demanding tenor roles of the evening, something that a much better singer, Salvatore Licitra, recently did at the Met. Manzitti sounded strained but had all the notes for both roles, although his high range was veiled, all inwardly focused (see what I mean in these video excerpts) and his acting style was strangely stilted. Lorna Haywood's staging set both operas in the same Sicilian village -- sugary sets by Ron Keller with the look of a Kinkade cityscape -- in the 1940s. (Yes, that was Mamma Lucia and Santuzza with Turiddu's baby in the crowds of I Pagliacci.) The crowd scenes were a bit, well, overcrowded, making for choreography that consisted mostly of standing around and gesturing, but the chorus sounded effective, if not remotely Italian. While this production is not exactly excellent, the ticket prices are well below what you would pay at larger companies, for a mostly enjoyable evening.

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