News & Reviews

Victorian Opera - Review, Herald Sun ★★★★

16th August 2016

Victorian Opera’s Laughter and Tears combines song and circus art to tell one of Italian opera’s great torrid stories

Paul Selar, Reviewer, Herald Sun
August 15, 2016 2:34pm

IN ASSOCIATION with Circus Oz, Victorian Opera’s ingenious new production Laughter and Tears uses circus arts to aid and illuminate one of Italian opera’s great torrid stories, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (1892).

Artistic Director Richard Mills takes Pagliacci’s story of manipulation, revenge and murder — the Tears — and counterbalances it with a prologue imbued with compelling freshness, comic abandon and contextual contrast — the Laughter.

Setting the story in Italy straddling either side of World War II, Pagliacci’s troupe of entertainers, once basking in the frivolity of their Commedia dell’arte craft, reconnect five years later to perform, their comic heart coated with the atrocity of war.

The meshing of both libretto and characters is adroitly handled as the masks of comedy and tragedy abruptly turn.

Laughter, based around a rehearsal for a pantomime in which a young woman is trapped by her geriatric guardian/husband but who falls in love with a young handsome man (you might think of Rossini here), both mirrors and masks Tears.

Director Emil Wolk masterfully integrates the eye-catching acrobatics of circus performers Kate Fryer, Geoff Dunstan, DJ Garner, Luke Taylor and Tim Coldwell who gesticulate, tumble and fly about as stagehands with slapstick delight amongst a solidly cast troupe of fine singers.

Julie Nelson’s stylised village set contains plenty of entry/escape routes for shenanigans. Respectable 1940’s costumes and sumptuous pantomime outfits by Harriet Oxley supply period-perfect context and theatricality under Eduard Ingles-Sancho’s lush lighting.

Conducting on opening night, Richard Mills gave zing to the rich assortment of Baroque and early Renaissance music he has spun so magically into Laughter from Vecchi, Banchieri and various others. In Tears, he renders Leoncavallo’s score with stridency and passion. Orchestra Victoria honoured with faultless playing and notably fine brass work.

As Canio, head of the troupe, big tenor Rosario La Spina appears at Laughter’s end to announce war has been declared then ricochets emotional rage as the jealous and vengeful husband in Pagliacci in grand Italian style. The crushing despair he musters for the opera’s famous aria “Vesti la giubba” knocks with aggravating power.

Elvira Fatyknova is equally impressive as the petite and matter-of-fact Nedda, masking her affair with Silvio until discovered by her husband, her creamy sweet and bright soprano easily turning to demonstrative passionate depth.

Resonant, oily baritone James Clayton is a haunting presence as Tonio, the untrustworthy fool injured by Nedda’s rejection. Fabio Capitanucci convinces as the unidentified lover Silvio, his baritone caressing and smouldering.

Slipping easily into comedy and warming hearts with his pure, glowing tenor, Michael Petruccelli cuts an endearing Arlequinno/Beppe. He is joined by fellow members of VO’s Professional Development Program, Kate Amos, Daniel Carison, Michelle McCarthy and Shakira Tsindos, performing their best as Laughter’s minstrels. Pagliacci’s chorus of eager-eyed villagers sing splendidly.

Pagliacci can now confidently leave its oft-paired companion, Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana for good. Laughter and Tears has all the ingredients to travel far and is testament to Victorian Opera’s commitment to engaging opera lovers anew and opening doors to the uninitiated.


Victorian Opera, Palais Theatre, until August 18

4 stars

Victorian Opera - Review, Herald Sun ★★★★ -