Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Best Clown of All


Thank you, Mr. Gelb for starting my New Year with the verismo gift that keeps on giving:  Roberto Alagna, Aleksandra Kurzak and George Gagnidze transforming the Met stage for Pagliacci. Just a few moments before the clown makes his appearance, Sir David McVicar  and his double-faceted production of Cavalleria Rusticana brings a 1900’s piazza in Italy to life, with Roberto showing us the selfish, vile and obsessive side of Turridu . The set is dark , the mood is dark and Roberto is spot on as the cad in question. The imaginative twist that McVicar gives these two often- paired short pieces is his use of the piazza where both take place. The Old World feel of Cav places us in a different time, a different mentality and practically an alternate universe with faithless love and death as the mirror image themes of both Cav and Pag. Roberto grounds us in the feeling of the place and George, as Alfio , the cuckolded husband, as his anchor.

Flip the coin and you’re in an ebullient world of color. The piazza  in Italy is now post WWII. Roberto makes his effervescent entrance atop a travelling troupe’s truck amid a blast of confetti, in blue. The darkness remains in essence, ghosted from the Cav set, as a psychological pall over the piazza.
George in the meantime has fleshed out the nature of the scene in an inappropriate wig and suit that scream tacky but so work. 

Moritz Junge did a raucous, ebullient set of costumes that reflected a post-war scrabble for travelling entertainers.

George, long known to Met audiences from ( among other roles) his brilliant Scarpia in Tosca must be foul.  He betrays Nedda in his jealousy and carries the bitter end of this two-act opera to fruition.
Roberto is at his acting and singing apex as Canio.  Adding to the electricity on stage is Aleksandra’s portrayal of Nedda. 

Nedda does it all: she passes the hat (literally), she performs in pantomime and carves out the ingénue with lively pacing. Aleks grasps the nuance behind the character and gives us an imaginative interpretation of this Jill of all trades.

Roberto as Canio is something we’ve been waiting for since the interruptus two years ago when he was pulled out of the role and saved the Met’s production of Manon Lescaut. His poignant delivery of one of the most famous arias in opera melts the soul and hammers the heart.  The list is very long of all the iconic arias that Roberto has gifted us with and treasured by the entire lyric world. Vesti la Giubba strikes home, with a fervor only Roberto can grant.

For those of us not so hip on lyric terminology but immersed in the operatic for the intensity that comes with a mammoth stage, costumes that excite, voices that prolong the experience long after the last note dwindles on the airwaves and music that echoes through the ages, Pagliacci per Roberto et Cie. is a must see.  Bravo, Mr. Gelb, Sir David, Roberto, Aleks, and George along with the euphonics of the Met orchestra and the ever-present talent of the chorus. Long may this clown live in our memories.

Cavalleria Rusticana, Pietro Mascagni
Pagliacci, Ruggiero Leoncavallo

Conductor,  Nicola Luisotti