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Published: Sunday, 4/2/2006

Excellent 'Pagliacci' shakes the emotions

BY STEVEN CORNELIUS
BLADE MUSIC CRITIC

The stage and real life, love and revenge are brought into play in Toledo Opera's bracing production of Ruggiero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, which opened a three-performance run last night at the Valentine Theatre.

Though remarkably short for an opera at just 75 minutes, Leoncavallo created a searing tale of love and infidelity. The composer characterized the piece as "verismo," that is, true to life. Whether real people actually live their lives with as much passion as can be delivered on the operatic stage is a question worth pondering. Certainly true, however, is the fact that when well done, as was last night's performance, looking in on such passion is terrifically disturbing, like being a sexual predator and victim, enabler and voyeur simultaneously.

Briefly, the story tells of Nedda, the faithless wife of the jealous and passionate Canio. Already losers in real life, they find themselves making their living on the stage where night after night they confront their marital demons by playing a comic version of their real-life story. In the end, Canio is no longer able to separate theater from reality. He demands to know the name of Nedda's lover, which she refuses to reveal. Canio murders her.

Watching all this is difficult, and yet, because the music is so wonderful, also irresistibly engaging. Credit much of this production's power to stage director Gregory Fortner, who succeeded in stripping the various characters to their emotional essences. Nedda is simultaneously sultry and feral, her lover, Silvio, a puppy of a man. The hunch-backed Tonio, whom Nedda has jilted, is a raging cyclone of vengeance. Canio is a man reduced to clown. Solo singing was first-rate all around and invariably in character.

Credit must also go to the large chorus. Not only was it extremely well rehearsed, but better yet, richly spirited. Every entrance was an event worth savoring.

Conductor Thomas Conlin seemed perfectly in his element with this rich musical score. He drew large and passionate timbres from the Toledo Symphony musicians.

A suggestion. Anyone looking to try opera for the first time, this is the show to attend. The pacing is tight, the singing terrific. The drama? I guarantee you will leave the theater emotionally shaken.

Toledo Opera presents Leoncavallo's Pagliacci at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Valentine Theatre. Information: 419-255-7464.

Contact Steven Cornelius at: scornelius@theblade.com or 419-724-6152.



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