Cavalleria Rusticana

March 6, 2020 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆  effective

Assembly Roxy: Tue 3 – Sat 7 Mar 2020
Review by Thom Dibdin

Edinburgh Studio Opera has followed a path of noire inevitability into the dark heart of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, the tale of a returning soldier, a spurned lover and a vengeful secret told.

The noire frame-work, brought to the production by director Jen McGregor, works elegantly to heighten and sharpen the tension. She has colour coded it all, with the cast mostly in black, with goth-like palid makeup and dark lipstick. The only flash of colour comes from temptress Lola, in lush red lipstick and a garish red dress..

Debora Ruiz-Kordova and Hannah Leggatt

This simplicity is hugely effective and focusses the storytelling on the ex-soldier Turiddu, who has returned from the army to find his lover Lola married to another, the black-marketeer Alfio, and seduced the maiden Santuzza – for a bit of a diversion it would seem.

It needs to be effective, as the actual narrative on stage supposes knowledge of a great deal of this backstory, even as the characters are revealed.

As the opera opens, Turiddu is lamenting his loss in love and remarking that he would happily die and go to heaven if only Lola would see him – but it would be hell if she was not there. While the unfortunate Santuzza, now obviously discarded herself, looks on from the shadows.

Cameron Mitchell has a darkly warm voice, ripe for self-centred Turiddu but forceful enough to stand up alongside the 27-strong orchestra, which takes over the front six or seven rows of one side of central nave in the Assembly Roxy’s main space.

full-bodied

As the story moves on and past the gossiping chorus in the village square – some nicely turned acting here from the female chorus, although their male counterparts seem less happy singing and acting at the same time – the focus turns to Santuzza who is given the most lush full-bodied voice by Debora Ruiz-Kordova.

Debora Ruiz-Kordova with Rebeca Davies and Chorus. Pic ESO

In fact this is very much Santuzza’s show. It is her rejection by both Turiddu and as a fallen woman by the hugely religious community on this Easter Day, then her realisation that he has got back together with Lola, pleading her cause with his mother and final betrayal of him to Lola’s husband, which drives every action in the plot.

Ruiz-Kordova has every emotional element, covered. Her arias allow her to show off her true potential, but she is a knowledgeable and confident enough singer to ensure that she does not overpower her partners in Santuzza’s duets, notably, the final showdown with Turiddu.

Hannah Leggatt does a good job as Turiddu’s mother, Lucia, creating a strong, and passably older, character even as she sets the scene in her tavern where much of the action takes place and first rejects Santuzza’s claims then becoming reconciled when she realises reality of her son’s deeds.

swaddled in black

Lola and Alfio might feel like lesser characters when it comes to the amount of singing they are required to put in, but they are key to the success of the opera.

Rebeca Davies. Pic ESO

Lola’s key moment is her first appearance, and here McGregor has excelled herself. Rebeca Davies parades in with the priests and congregation, swaddled in black but with a sliver of her face visible in the hood of her gown, a red gash of lippy and a flash of blue.

She is the embodiment here of the Virgin Mary, the chorus queuing up to kiss the hem of her gown – but the sinner Santuzza spurned and sent away. With the most adroit of strokes, McGregor ensures that ideas of femininity, feminism, control and the role of Madonna figure are all woven into the narrative.

beautifully paced

Ed Birchinall’s Alfio is a man full of anger, barely contained. The scene where he learns of his wife’s infidelity is beautifully paced as he visibly allows you to see the violence welling up inside him – without letting it spill out. Yet.

If the noirish sensibilities ensure the production’s storytelling is spot on, the placing of the orchestra seals its success.

The echoing Roxy is notoriously tricky to play in, but placing the band to one side of the nave seems to have solved problem of reverberation, and gives those lucky (or foolhardy) enough to be on the other side of the aisle from them, the feeling that they are right in the heart of the beast, adding hugely to the emotional effect of the music itself.

An inspired and satisfying evening of opera that not only delivers on an emotional level, but is likely to leave you humming the tunes on the way home.

Running time One hour and 20 minutes (no interval)
Assembly Roxy: Tuesday 3 – Sat 7 March 2020
Evenings (Not Thurs): 7.30.

Rebeca Davies and the chorus. Pic ESO

ENDS

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