Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci at Holland Park
This year, Opera Holland Park begin their open-air summer season with a classic operatic double bill. Both powerful tales of love, infidelity and fatal repercussions, director Stephen Barlow’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are sophisticated interpretations of the genre’s most familiar tales and thus testament to the company’s desire “to make opera accessible to all”.
Barlow opens with a rather brash attempt at modernising Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci’s 19th century opera: as the music builds, the audience is faced with Turiddu (Peter Auty) and Lola (Hannah Pedley) in a compromising embrace. It is the only shocking moment as, although the setting is transported to 40s Sicily to great effect, the story unfolds in a manner much truer to the original. Like the duo’s libretto, the performance’s development is restrained, with conductor Stuart Stratford leading the City of London Sinfonia slowly to start with, before the potent final moments of ominous tremolo and timpani roll.
Predictably, Auty is at once mesmerising in embodying both tenor parts – here, as the cheating Turiddu, and later in the title role of Pagliacci. Stephen Gadd similarly delights with masterful characterisation as a Mafioso-esque Alfio then a menacing Tonio, but it’s the sopranos in both operas who steal the show. Gweneth-Ann Jeffers is quietly compelling as the disgraced Santuzza, particularly in her more intimate scenes with Lucia (Sarah Pring), performed against a melancholic backdrop of strings descending the minor scale alongside intermittent bursts of powerful brass chords. In contrast, though just as captivating, is Julia Sporsén in a stand-out performance as a particularly raunchy Nedda.
Pagliacci is better, punchier and more emotive, not only for Auty’s absorbing rendition of Vesti la Giubba, but also because of the heightened pace of its libretto and music. The decision to go with a 70s setting is an unusual take on Ruggero Leoncavallo’s popular opera. However, it immediately differentiates this second half from Barlow’s outwardly stylised but ultimately straightforward Cavalleria Rusticana, as well as creating an incredibly vivid stage of colour, perfect for the theatricality needed for this play within a play.
With the evening light producing a delightful atmosphere for Nedda’s Ballatella, Opera Holland Park proves to be an enchanting venue for an operatic experience that is not to be missed.
The Opera Holland Park 2013 season is on until 3rd August 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.