Pixel Tracker

Friday, March 22 , 2019, 2:41 pm | A Few Clouds 61º


Opera Santa Barbara Updates Old Classics

Modern makeover of 'Cavalleria Rusticana' and 'Pagliacci' may not have worked for the plots, but the music transcends ages.


[Editor’s note: Allan Glassman sang the part of Canio in Pagliacci and Malcolm MacKenzie sang Taddeo. The story has been corrected below.]

Opera Santa Barbara opened its 14th season, and its 2008 Italian Passions Festival, with the familiar pairing of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci on Saturday night at the Lobero Theatre.

These two, Cavalleria composed in 1890 and Pagliacci in 1892, have been joined at the hip almost from their first performances, so much so that they are known in the opera world as "Ham and Eggs."

At the Lobero, the setting was moved to Italy circa 1947 from Italy in the 1890s, which worked for Cavalleria, but not for Pagliacci. I don’t see the advantage of trying to "modernize" such classic versions of 19th-century musical theater, but the anomaly somehow worked in the first opera.

The Santa Barbara company does a bang-up job with production values. The orchestra in the pit, conducted by Valery Ryvkin, was fine. The singers were truly first-rate.

In Cavalleria, tenor Allan Glassman sang the role of the feckless Turridu, home from war, courting the peasant girl, Santuzza, and at the same time having an affair with the married Lola. Mezzo soprano Layna Chianakas was full-voiced and ravaged as Santuzza, pregnant and nearly insane with jealousy. Croatian mezzo Tihana Herceg was insolently lyrical as the cheating wife.

The cuckolded husband, Alfio, was sung by baritone Malcolm MacKenzie, and Turridu’s long-suffering mother, Mamma Lucia, was portrayed by gifted contralto Victoria Hart. All these performers, directed by Linda Brovsky, breathed genuine fire into this tale of fierce emotion and bloody consequences.


While it is possible to imagine these characters and their emotions in mid-20th century Calabria, Pagliacci does not fare so well when moved from its period setting. For one thing, the idea of a traveling Commedia del’ Arte troupe wandering the countryside presenting actors playing Harlequin, Columbine and stylized pagliacci ("clowns") fails to gel.

Nothing can be taken away from the singers, of course. Glassman was a touching Canio, the crippled clown who loves beautiful Nedda, sung by soprano Barbara Divis. Taddeo, Nedda’s jealous husband and head of the troupe of players, was convincing as sung by MacKenzie. Tenor Matthew Pena was a believable Beppe, the Harlequin. Silvio, the handsome villager who is having an affair with Nedda, was played by the dashing baritone Daniel Narducci. Once again, Linda Brodsky directed the performance.

Putting these characters in the 1940s exposes all the creaks in the antique plot, however. Harlequins and Columbines are problematical anyway. Trying to integrate them into a relatively contemporary setting simply doesn’t work.

The Italian Passions Festival will run through March 9. The Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci double bill will be repeated on Friday, Sunday and March 8. Performances of L’Elisir D’Amore, by Gaetano Donizetti, will also be performed, on Saturday and on March 7 and 8.

Click here for show times and information, or call 805.898-3890. To order tickets online, click here.

Support Noozhawk Today!

Our professional journalists work tirelessly to report on local news so you can be more informed and engaged in your community. This quality, local reporting is free for you to read and share, but it's not free to produce.

You count on us to deliver timely, relevant local news, 24/7. Can we count on you to invest in our newsroom and help secure its future?

We provide special member benefits to show how much we appreciate your support.

I would like give...
Great! You're joining as a Red-Tailed Hawk!
  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.