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I'm very glad that next year my silver cast subscription to Seattle Opera will be on Friday nights, back-to-back with my gold cast subscription, because I don't think anyone should have to sing at 2pm, especially something like "I Pagliacci," which I heard yesterday afternoon.

General Director Speight Jenkins decided to perform "I Pagliacci" on its own, in the two-act version. He noted in the post-performance Q&A that he had received a number of complaints from patrons who felt they were only getting half an evening, although as he also noted, "I Pagliacci" is just as long as "Electra," and no one complains about that opera on its own, and also that Seattle Times critic Melinda Bargreen told him that she got a lot of positive feedback for "an early evening at the opera." He asked director Bernard Uzan if there was any way to extend the opera, and Uzan said he had always wanted to show the background of Canio's line from "No Pagliaccio non son" where he says that he took Nedda as an orphan and gave her his name. Assistant Conductor Philip Kelsey found little-known music from Leoncavallo's opera "Zaza" and his "Romance" and re-orchestrated it. The "Zaza" music was circus band music, in this case scored for piano, played by Williamson, and seven or eight of the principal players.

The opera opened in front of a drop, with two dancers portraying comedy (female in white) and tragedy (male in black) doing their thing, which was a bit cute for my taste. (Neither they nor a choreographer were listed on the cast page, and it looked a bit improvisational.) They then rolled out a trunk, from which Tonio emerged, to sing the Prologue. When the drop curtain was raised, we saw the set rented from Montreal. (With its church upstage left and a house downstage right, it could have be used for both "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "I Pagliacci.") The set was timeless, but as the chorus poured into the square, the dress was from the 1950's, Seattle Opera's own costumes. The Commedia troup arrived in a small Fiat pulling a small trailer into town. (It was a bit shiny and unscratched for such a group, but I don't think any dealer wanted to sponsor a beater.) The town square was setting for the most of the rest of the act, until Canio retreated downstage left to a dressing table after singing "Vesti la Giubba," which ended Act I.

When the curtain opened for Act II, Canio was in the same place, head in arms, and the interpolated scene represented his memory of his early years with Nedda. In the center of the square was a stage on which the troupe would later perform. An older acrobat taught a young girl an act, and they did many of the tricks together, including presses and lifts. They were replaced by two others, this time a young woman as Nedda. Eventually replacing them were the adult, singer Nedda and two aerialists. At the end, a foretelling of what happened after the opera, the two aerialists hung straight down from their feet, dead in the air.

I had never seen a production in which the Act II stage audience sat upstage, behind the stage, and what was closest to the audience was backstage. The commedia was played both to the back of the proscenium and to the sides, except for Beppe's serenade from the balcony of the downstage right house. The actual murders took place closest to the audience, "behind" the stage. Reverting to the original, before Caruso appropriated the final line of the opera, "La Commedia e finita" was spoken by Tonio, as he stuffed comedy and tragedy into the trunk from which he emerged at the beginning of the opera.

The chorus was the star of this show, not only vocally, especially the united bright voices of the tenors, but also as the creator of an organic village. (Although I did find it amusing that every family seemed to have one child, as they head off to church.) They were a remarkably natural audience for the troupe in both acts.

I thought the comedy/tragedy clown concept was weak, but I've never liked clowns. As Jenkins pointed out, in stock commedia del arte, there are five characters: the older husband, the wife, the young harlequin lover, a nice character and and evil character, but in "I Pagliacci," the latter two are combined into a single character, Tonio. In my opinion, Tonio is neither comedic nor tragic; he is unfortunate, embittered, manipulative, and a bit pathetic. (Nedda, again in my opinion, has his number.) Onstage, the only time he was at all sympathetic was when he was playing to the children; they seemed to like him, even if he pretended to try to scare them. Jenkins said that the concept was that he was Iago-like, masterminding and manipulating the situation. He was also a pig. Regardless of his handicap, which could make him sympathetic -- and, at the same time, make Nedda seem shallow -- he was, in actuality, a competitive macho jerk, hitting on the boss's wife, as if he were entitled. I found it a great dramatic touch that when Nedda whipped him, she whipped his offending hands, which is exceedingly painful.

The only time Canio was sympathetic to me was during the interpolated scene. It was remarkable how quickly he and Tonio defaulted to calling Nedda a slut (repeatedly). His character flaw is less jealousy than a sense of property and gender entitlement, fueled by massive insecurity. The little Fiat from which the troupe piled that was so cute at the beginning of the opera, represented a claustrophobic and hostile cage for Nedda. Silvio is not a hormonal diversion for her: he represents freedom from the road and the day-to-day emotional violence to which she was subjected, with her only ally Beppe, the perpetual peacemaker.

Matinees are not great for judging voices. Mark Holland, who sang Tonio had a beautiful top, clear as a bell, but in the middle and lower register didn't sound settled. That was also an issue for Canio, John Uhlenhopp, who didn't display consistent control throughout his range. The role of Silvio didn't sound like it fit comfortably in Morgan Smith's range. Each of these singers had a number of interesting ideas that didn't quite come to fruition. This didn't stop them from effective drama, and in some ways it enhanced the drama: there were few beautiful sounds to trick us into setting aside the words. I think that Friday night will be a better indicator of their voices. (Smith was a terrific Don Giovanni last year.)

I loved Eva Bastori's Minnie a few years ago, and her Nedda was fabulous. She sang and acted the part with conviction, never softening to gain sympathy. The last time I saw "I Pagliacci" live was in the 70's, and I didn't remember from that performance or from recordings the size and volume of the orchestra she faces in her first act solo aria: it's a rumbling, gurgling forest she has to sing over, and she soared over it.

Doug Jones was a great Beppe. He moves like a dancer and his stage sense is exemplary. He also has a gorgeous voice. Unlike many singers in the role, who sing the Serenade as sweetly and prettily as possible -- it is, after all, the role's cameo -- he phrased it like a stock Harlequin, while never sacrificing his shimmering tenor.

The orchestra was mixed. There was a lot of wonderful playing, intermixed with some sour brass and a few noticeable synch issues, which I suspect will be ironed out with this cast by Friday.

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I also want to thank you. Last year Palm Beach Opera did this, using the Dallas Opera production, and I was impressed by how moving the piece can be when seen through a fresh perspective. The entire opera took place in or around a large circus ring, and the Act II audience -- as at Seattle -- sat upstage facing the real audience.

I am assuming that the interpolated scene was entirely wordless -- with Canio looking on silently. What did you think about the way the scene fit into the fabric of the entire piece-- was it natural, or clearly "additional material"?

One small thought. I wonder if the response of some operagoers to a shortened evening -- described by the critic as "an early evening at the opera" -- might be translated for some as: "Well we have to go, so it will great to get it over with quickly." I keep thinking of our own opera lovers who rush for valet parking almost as soon as the curtain has begun its final descent. :FIREdevil:

Our Pag was paired, as usual, with Cavalleria Rusticana. Both were translated to the same rural village in the period just after World War II and had a similar look (lighting, costume, even many of the same villagers). This was the first time I ever felt that these two works melded so well.

We have a two-cast system like yours, but here it's called "First Cast" and "Second Cast." No terminology is ideal. But, when I hear "gold" and "silver," I occasionally wonder whether, if the run had been longer and there were additional casts, one might not end up having a "Base Metal Cast" or even a "Dross Cast." :angel_not:

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At the end of "Vesti la Giubba," Canio was at his downstage left dressing table. His arms were crossed on the table, with his head in his arms, sobbing. When the curtain rose on him at the beginning of the second act, he was in the same position: the interpolated scene was meant to be his remembrance of their relationship as it progressed.

I think the reference to the short evening was partly in response to the length of opera that Seattle Opera tends to produce, like Wagner, Der Rosenkavalier, etc. I think it's also a "I'm glad we can get back to Tacoma/Redmond/Everett" at a reasonable time or that "we can get the earlier ferry to Bainbridge/Vashon Island, etc." I think the only people who "have" to go are a few reluctant spouses.

We only have Gold and Silver; no Bronze here :angel_not:

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At the end of "Vesti la Giubba," Canio was at his downstage left dressing table. His arms were crossed on the table, with his head in his arms, sobbing. When the curtain rose on him at the beginning of the second act, he was in the same position: the interpolated scene was meant to be his remembrance of their relationship as it progressed.

bart, last Sunday afternoon I saw something slightly different than Helene (or perhaps she just didn't mention it). When the 2nd Act opened Canio was at the table with his head in his arms exactly as he was at the end of the 1st Act (as Helene said). However, I was later taken aback to see the actual Canio performing in the later parts of the pantomime (yes, there were no words). Clearly (unless I was seeing things), they had substituted another person for Canio at the table. We the audience were easily tricked because we never saw his face, and he wore a bright red costume which helped the illusion. When the pantomime was over, the real Canio was magically back at the table -- I figured they did a switcheroo in a brief moment when the lights fell black on stage. Perhaps I am making all this up and indeed that was not the real Canio I saw in pantomime, but that's what I thought I saw. I see the "gold" cast tomorrow night, so I'll figure out who's tricking who then :).

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I will comment a bit more about the opera. I don't "know" my voices well enough to comment on the singing, so I leave that to Helene, but I will comment on the drama. As is not too unusual, I see it differently than Helene.

Of the added pantomimes in this production (the pre- and post-opera antics of 2 clowns: "Comedy" and "Tragedy", and the interlude btwn Acts 1 and 2 where we seen Nedda and Canio's early relationship), I preferred the Comedy/Tragedy bit to the interlude bit. The Comedy/Tragedy pantomimes setup and concluded brilliantly this opera given the brutal murders and the Commedia Dell'arte referrences as well as the ending line "La Commedia e finita". It made the opera for me into a sort of a Hegelian dialectic where Comedy and Tragedy combine to form real life (verismo opera). OTOH, I think I could have foregone the acrobatic interlude. It was interesting to see the back story of Canio and Nedda; and like Helene, I thought the "hanging bodies" was a very powerful "omen" device; but I found the interlude as a whole to be "off-putting" in the sense that for some 12 minutes no one is singing, and we see such "foreign" action as Cirque du Soleil type rope acrobatics. I was also a bit uncomfortable watching the real singers prance around as if they were true pantomime actors -- which they most certainly are not. OTOH, I give Seattle Opera and the stage director great credit for attempting something like this. Kudos to the singers too for being willing to stick their necks out doing something that could not have come easy for them.

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When I was writing this up, I kept blanking out on whom the adult (singer) Nedda was onstage with during the interlude. I kept thinking, "It couldn't have been Canio, he was downstage at his table," but what Sandy described had to have been exactly what happened.

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