Theatrical Life: Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci at the Theater Bonn

Mascagni – Cavalleria rusticana

Santuzza – Dshamilja Kaiser
Turiddu – George Oniani
Lucia – Anjara I Bartz
Alfio – Ivan Krutikov
Lola – Ava Gesell

Leoncavallo – Pagliacci

Canio – George Oniani
Nedda – Anna Princeva
Tonio – Ivan Krutikov
Beppe – Kieran Luke Carrel
Silvio – Giorgios Kanaris

Kinder- und Jugendchor des Theater Bonn, Extra-Chor des Theater Bonn, Chor des Theater Bonn, Beethoven Orchester Bonn / Will Humburg.
Stage director – Guy Montavon.

Theater Bonn, Bonn, Germany.  Saturday, November 9th, 2019.

As Canio sings, and the program book for tonight’s Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci double bill states, ‘il teatro e la vita non son la stessa cosa’.  That may indeed be the case, but these two works are so much of the everyday, as Michieletto’s celebrated staging, his love letter to provincial Italy, seen in Brussels, London and many others, reminded us.  Tonight’s director, Guy Montavon, a new name to me, took a different approach.  His was very much a meditation on the theatrical, the idea that tragedy is inherent in the operatic form, and it’s this element that divides theatre from real life.

Photo: © Theater Bonn

That’s not to say there isn’t lightness and joyfulness in his staging, a co-production with Erfurt and Seattle.  The fun of the travelling troupe in Pag was vividly brought to life, with jugglers and fire-breathers.  Yet, the setting for Cav, seemed less amenable to departures from tragedy.  As the curtain rises, we see two masks – one each of Mascagni and Leoncavallo.  The masks are lowered and the action for Cav takes place with the principals stepping on the faces, acting out and emoting.  The chorus appears to be attending an Easter ritual, dressed uniformly in black, while the principals, except for Mamma Lucia, are dressed in other colours – red for Santuzza, white for Lola.  It felt hard to believe that the soberly dressed crowd would join in with Alfio’s gay ditty with such glee.

Photo: © Theater Bonn

Interestingly, Montavo places the Pag prologue at the start of the evening, followed immediately by Cav.  This gave the evening a unifying thread that worked well.  He also adds a very interesting twist at the end of Cav – no spoilers here, but it made for an exciting climax.  The most striking moment in his staging comes just after ‘vesti la giubba’, the mask, now turned around and displayed from inside, is highlighted as Canio is transformed into a shadow before it, as if to say that the work and its creator will remain while its interpreters will come and go, despite their personal tragedies.  I found it an intriguing idea.

Photo: © Theater Bonn

Musically, there was much that satisfied.  One of the pleasures of visiting regional houses is getting to hear fine singers one might not routinely get to hear.  Ivan Krutikov made his presence known in the prologue with a firm, sturdy baritone of good size and a pleasantly tangy edge – as well as an impressive high A-flat.  He certainly has volume even if, occasionally, the vibrations can widen slightly under pressure.  He made for a strong Alfio, full of simmering anger under the surface, while his Tonio was brutish and full of vengeance.  Nedda was sung by Anna Princeva, fuller of voice that one often hears in this role, with a darker edge.  She managed to raise the temperature of the evening in ‘stridono lassù’, finding poetry in that union of text and music that wasn’t quite universal in the remainder of the cast, the voice soaring up to an easy top.

Photo: © Theater Bonn

As with Krutikov, common to Cav and Pag was George Oniani singing both Turiddu and Canio.  The Georgian tenor could be a very useful artist.  This voice has Latin warmth and his vocalism was always sturdy and robust.  The top has a tendency to tightness but the notes were certainly there.  He sang his ‘vesti la giubba’ with feeling, using the text and the dynamics to draw us into Canio’s despair.  His Santuzza was Dshamilja Kaiser, the owner of a full, rounded mezzo with good sheen.  It sounds to my ears that she is still working the role into the voice, still learning to pace herself.  Her ‘voi lo sapete o mamma’, ran out of steam somewhat, as was the case with her big confrontation with Turiddu.  She did rise to a exciting curse, spitting it out with fearless force.  While Kaiser’s diction was always clear, I felt a sense that her singing was somewhat monochrome, not necessarily demonstrating an understanding of the meaning of the text.

Photo: © Theater Bonn

In the remainder of the cast, Anjara I Bartz was a sympathetic Lucia, although the registers have parted company in her mezzo.  Ava Gesell sang an alluring Lola, though with her legato somewhat aspirated.  Giorgios Kanaris sang Silvio in a handsome, velvety baritone with a good sense of line, while Kieran Luke Carrel was a youthful Beppe in a light, pleasant tenor, one I’d certainly like to hear in the Mozart tenor roles at some point.  The chorus was vigorous and enthusiastic, singing with verve and tightness, as did the well-drilled children’s chorus.

Photo: © Theater Bonn

Will Humburg’s conducting was interesting.  Initially, he led a swift opening to Cav, far from the funereal dirge we often hear, giving the music a sense of forward momentum that was most welcome.  Things seemed to slow down slightly after, particularly in the Santuzza/Turiddu confrontation, losing momentum just when it should be pushing to the inevitable conclusion.  He phrased both the intermezzi with love and affection, although the string tone sounded rather thin from my seat.  The Beethoven Orchester is a fine band, but there were a few slips in ensemble along the way, inevitable for a first night.

Photo: © Theater Bonn

Overall, this was an engaging evening in the theatre.  Montavon gives us an intriguing concept, one that combines these two works into an organic whole, offering differing perspectives on theatrical life.  It was honourably sung, with Princeva and Krutikov in particular, giving performances that were vivid and succeeded in taking the performance into another gear.  With sturdy conducting, enthusiastic choral singing, and respectable orchestral playing, the evening was received with a warm ovation from the Bonn public.

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