Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pagliacci for Everyman at Cork Midsummer Festival

The action of  the  Cork Midsummer Festival production of   Pagliacci begins outside the Everyman Palace Theatre on McCurtain Street  where the theatre goer runs a gauntlet  of  assorted carnival entertainers, stilt walkers, limbo dancers , tattooed ladies and the like. Cork Operatic Society has wholeheartedly embraced the ancient Roman formula for happy  audiences and their  2012 production of Leoncavello’s verismo masterpiece is a vibrant, gaudy carnival interweaving  circus elements, a Victorian Music Hall setting as well as excellent singing and acting.

 “Pagliacci” (translated as clowns or players) presents a play within a play, a tale of a tragedy in a traveling troupe of commedia dell’arte players rife with jealousy and lust. No surprise then that things don’t end well with not just one, but two on stage murders. In this production,  the opera is divorced  from its usual pairing with Cavalleria Rusticana  and was sung in the original Italian with English supertitles.

Director Michael Barker- Caven extends the stage into the space usually occupied by the front stalls. There is no stage curtain and as patrons enter the auditorium, the musicians in costume are reclined in various poses on an elaborate, red and gold   circular podium. Throughout Act 1, the musicians remain on stage moving around the action as they play from memory. Although heavily made up, I recognise the quartet led by Marja Gaynor from a John O Brien's production of Dido and Aeneas which had many stylistic similarities to tonight’s production. The scoring for the overture is reduced to piano and the smaller ensemble is expanded  to an ensemble of 30 or so players in Act 2, seated  in a theatrical balcony at the stage rear.

Leoncavello on the Lee
The five leading roles are well cast. The leader of the troupe, Canio, was sung by Trinidadian tenor, Ronald Samm whose burly stage presence and air of menace  gave credibility to Nedda’s  terror of his discovery of her unfaithfulness.  And yet his anguish in his concluding Act 1, “Vesti la giubba” was equally convincing, Samm was well matched by local soprano Cara O Sullivan, who aside from her superb vocal skills demonstrated considerable dramatic instinct in conveying the complexity of Nedda’s character.
 Her Act I aria, Stridono lassù in which she envies the freedom of the birds was set against an acrobatic rope sequence by one of the Cork Circus Troupe. Baritone, Simon Morgan as lover Silvio in nondescript costume was a handsome enough suitor but didn’t quite  convince me that Nedda would run away with him.
Brendan Collins
 Poor ‘ol lustful Tonio, the fool of the troupe of players  whose vengeful actions have drastic consequences was powerfully portrayed by baritone Brendan Collins who  opens the show appearing from behind  a curtain in a side stage box before delivering the opening prologue..
One of my favourite moments was David Burzotta  singing and acting in the commedia del arte  role of Arlecchino in Act I.I He best of all,  I think,  signalled  the shift from reality to the ‘play within a play’ scenario.
Cara O'Sullivan as Nedda

The chorus of townspeople were a  mix of all ages and further invaded the theatre bursting in from side entrances and surrounding the audience on all sides.
The programme notes were poor. Although very cheap at €2 , there was no plot synopsis for the opera virgins and it was impossible to read the print against the muted colour of the page.

 This was fast paced, highly entertaining production and a terrific collaboration by Cork Operatic
Society, Cork Circus, Barabbas, Everyman Palace Theatre and Cork Midsummer Festival, co-directed by Barker -Caven and John O'Brien
There was a spontaneous standing ovation from the Friday night audience and I hope it is sold out for the remainder of the run. Cork is fortunate to have an opera company presenting such as  innovative quality productions to entertain its citizens.


  1. YEs, well said, endosce all that as an opening night attendee.
    Well done John and ALl.