Monday 27 November 2023

CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA & PAGLIACCI / Singapore Lyric Opera / Review



Singapore Lyric Opera

School of the Arts Concert Hall

Friday (24 November 2023)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 27 November 2023 with the title "Enjoyable evening with semi-staged Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci".


Twenty-five years ago, Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO) was producing four fully-staged operas a year. Due to a shrinking budget and government subvention divided between SLO and newer opera companies, it has been reduced to just one major production annually. Singapore’s Grande Dame of Opera’s only major offering this year, directed by Nancy Yuen, was a semi-staged double-bill of two favourite Italian verismo operas. Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (Clowns) are affectionately known as Cav and Pag.


SLO had spread its casting net wider afield this year, engaging two USA-based singers, Dominican tenor Jose Heredia and Italian-American soprano Lisa Algozzini in their Singapore debuts to helm the major roles of both operas. Truly inspired finds, both were young and fresh yet had enough experience to command the stage with authority.


A vital chemistry was struck for their antagonistic male-female love pairings in the tragedies that unfolded. In Cav, Heredia’s Turiddu had jilted Algozzini’s Santuzza to return to his old sweetheart Lola, but with fatal consequences. In Pag, Algozzini’s Nedda cheats on Heredia’s Canio with Silvio and both illicit lovers get offed on stage in front of a horrified audience. Stark reality and brutal realism are the essence of verismo, making for gripping drama.


Both singers lived their respective dual roles to perfection, none better in Canio’s hit aria Vesti La Giubba, illustrating a clown’s desperate dilemma caught between acting and real life, nailed with vehemence by Heredia. Local baritone Martin Ng, the only other singer with roles in both operas, was very convincing as the menacing mafioso Alfio in Cav and bumbling comedic Tonio in Pag.


Martin Ng as Tonio in Pagliacci.

The small casts including parts for Chinese soprano Li Yang (Lola) and Japanese mezzo-soprano Chieko Trevatt (Turiddu’s mother Lucia) in Cav, Korean tenor Edward Kim (Silvio) and local tenor Jonathan Charles Tay (Beppe) in Pag. SLO can never be accused of not being international in outlook.

SLO Adult Chorus in action.
Can you spot Patricia Teng and Karen Aw?


Another vital aspect was the community reach of opera, represented splendidly and colourfully by the 39 singers from the SLO Adult Chorus (Terrence Toh, Chorus Master). The Easter Hymn (Cav) and Bell Chorus (Pag), the latter joined by seven children, may also be regarded as true highlights in this production.

La commedia e finita!
The comedy is finished!


All the singers were sensitively accompanied by a 12-strong SLO Chamber Orchestra, in effective chamber arrangements by Daniel James, led by conductor Joshua Tan. The orchestra was placed onstage behind all the singers and simply set, represented by just a single stage platform and two pillars. While managed on a shoestring, the final outcome was more than satisfactory while not appearing cheap.


Most importantly, musical values – singing, ensemble work and accompaniment - were upheld to the highest levels of SLO’s capabilities. No one who attended could deny this production was a largely enjoyable one. One wonders what more may be achieved if a larger budget was made available. Singapore does not have a Met, Covent Garden or La Scala yet, but one can only dream.  

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