The well-publicised reinterpretation of Leoncavallo’s opera by John O’Brien and Michael Barker-Craven is a resounding success.
From the moment one crosses the threshold of the theatre, one is in a totally different, magical world that combines circus, drama, puppetry, funfair, and music — a perfect mixture to open a Midsummer Festival. While there are some (very few) elements that I could wish were otherwise, this magnificently imagined and superbly realised production is one that I would love to see again and again.
While, naturally, the transformation of the theatre, and use of the theatrical spaces, plus the costumes, set, lighting, and the appearance of a cast of unexpected characters, all massively contribute to the success of the production, in the final analysis the music and the musicians are what make an opera.
In this case John O’Brien has, once again, gathered around him a group of singers and players who share his vision and create a most wonderfully effective sound world that totally absorbs the listener.
The sudden entrance from the vestibule of the chorus, the cast, the strolling orchestra and the circus performers to occupy the ground floor aisles sets the mood.
Then, from Brendan Collins’ (Tonio) splendid singing of the Prologue right through to Ronald Samm’s (Canio) broken-hearted Ridi Pagliaccio, which brings down the curtain, the excitement/tension never lets up. I was distracted during Cara O’Sullivan’s lovely Stridone lassu by an incredibly brilliant aerial acrobat (Michaela Heyer) performing over her head, but nothing could distract from the wonderfully exciting, unconducted, Bell Chorus, the drama of Vesti la giubba, the tenderness of Silvio, a questa ora, or the marvellous, Marja Gaynor-led, orchestral playing of both the chamber group and the full orchestra.
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