Theatre Review: Opera Seria – Cavalleria Rusticana / I Pagliacci – RNCM Studio Theatre, Manchester


This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

Opera’s famous pairing of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci may be 121 years old but it’s still capable of captivating an audience as Opera Seria demonstrate with their exciting staged production at RNCM Studio Theatre.

Conducted by Jonathan Ellis and directed by Rochelle Hart, the explosive themes of jealously, murder and betrayal are skillfully transformed by Manchester’s opera company in this thrilling and exciting staged chamber production.

The verismo double bill opens with Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, a classic play-within-a-play which tells the story of Nedda and her lover Silvio, an adulterous couple who are knifed to death by Nedda’s husband Canio when their touring play turns tragically real.

The performance is slow to start with some of the chorus slightly out of time with the music during the opening number but improves significantly after the central love-duet between Rochelle Hart (Nedda) and Chris Childs Santos (Silvio). Ben Thapa convinces as the anguished Canio, his dramatic and vocal authority particularly shining through in the opera’s most famous number, Vesti La Giubba. Victor Sgarbi also impresses as the lecherous and jealously vengeful Tonio.

The starkly gripping Cavalleria Rusticana follows in part two and is arguably the better of the two performances. Affectionately known as ‘Cav’, it tells the story of Turiddu, a young villager who dies in a duel at the hand of Alfio, the man he has wronged by committing adultery with his wife Lola. It also contains one of the most famous and beautiful tunes in operatic history, the Intermezzo, performed flawlessly on the piano by Jonathan Ellis.

Laura Wolk-Lewanowicz is outstanding as Santuzza, the scorned lover torn between jealously, anger and love. Philip Clieve is also excellent as Alfio, his strong vocal performance earning him a rapturous applause by the audience at the end of the performance.

Both productions were joined by the Opera Seria chorus, who despite the rocky start, were on fine form, particularly in Cavalleria Rusticana’s Easter Hymn. Both operas were sung in the original Italian with English subtitles, which worked well for the majority of the performance despite a slight hiccup during the dramatic Regina Coeli of Cavalleria Rusticana.

The soloists however were arguably outperformed by the exceptional performance by the Musical Director Jonathan Ellis, whose piano adaptation of the orchestral score is simply outstanding.

Compelling, dramatic and as captivating as ever, Opera Seria deliver a solid performance of one of Opera’s most famous pairings, with a cast rich in vocal and dramatic talents.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Runs until 4 October 2014

Reviewer: Donna Kelly
Photo: Adam Swann