Verismo operas serve to depict the truth in everyday life. To this day, audiences connect to the enduringly real quality of Puccini’s classic love story, La Bohème. Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana defined Italian verismo opera when it opened in 1890. Edmonton Opera begins its season on Saturday evening with Mascagni’s definitive masterpiece in combination with another verismo favourite, Ruggero Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci (as a duo, these two shows often receive the nickname “Cav/Pag”). If truth is the name of the game in verismo opera, Edmonton Opera’s dress rehearsal on Thursday evening did not tell a word of lie.
Although headlined by legendary tenor Richard Margison in the role of Turiddu, the story of Cavalleria Rusticana belongs to Santuzza—the unrequited lover of Turiddu. Santuzza is a notoriously difficult role that requires a mezzo-soprano or a soprano to have both a full-throated lower register and soaring high notes.
As Santuzza, Dana Beth Miller proved herself a fine actress, capturing the dramatic intensity the role requires. Her voice was equally dramatic and plenty beautiful, but I fear the difficult acoustic in the Jubilee Auditorium caused her to up her breath pressure and squeeze her high notes to compensate. Though she needed to trust that her powerful voice would carry just fine, her performance was captivating. Mia Lennox Williams was loveably annoying as Lola, the woman who steals Turiddu away from Santuzza, and Lynne McMurtry’s Mama Lucia was beautifully sung. Gregory Dahl, who has charisma for days, was a powerfully jealous Alfio. I am going to be honest: Richard Margison is, quite simply, Richard Margison. His voice is still working. That is all you need to know. Go see him.
Gregory Dahl transitioned the evening into Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci with some wonderfully timed comedy as Tonio the clown. The entrance of the villagers to see the company putting on the theatrics marked the entrance of one of our great sopranos, Laura Whalen. Her Nedda was stunning. Her voice was beautiful, as always, her dramatic intentions were clear, as always, and her glistening presence made it hard to focus on anyone else. Tonio had no chance at love with Whalen’s Nedda.
Nedda’s husband, Canio, was Mr. Margison. Again in fine form, he sang the famous “Vesti la giubba” as beautifully as ever. Aaron St. Clair Nicholson was formidable as Nedda’s lover, Silvio, and Robert Clark was quite funny as Beppe the clown.
Meastro Tyrone Paterson led the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Edmonton Opera Chorus through the undeniably gorgeous music of both of these verismo greats. The chorus was particularly busy in the Leoncavallo, and each member remained engaging throughout. Peter J. Hall’s beautifully simple sets added to the search for emotional truth by not overdoing anything and letting the performers tell the story.
Kudos are in order for director Valerie Kuinka. She went for truth rather than fireworks, and this allowed the music to shine through. The tragic nature of these two operas, in turn, became so beautiful that you accepted the stories for exactly what they were.
This is an evening of opera not to be missed.
Edmonton Opera’s production runs on October 22, 25 and 27 at 7:30pm at the Jubilee Auditorium.