Suor Angelica and Pagliacci May 2009

Director/Conductor Simon Gray has again excelled with this operatic double bill ~ staging one third of Puccini's Il Trittico - Suor Angelica and Pagliacci by Leoncavallo. The first being the heart rending story of a young mother of an illegitimate child forced to 'take the veil' by her cruel heartless relations for bringing shame on their noble family. Her aunt visits the convent to tell of the death of her child and the distraught nun poisons herself while imploring the Virgin Mary to forgive her for her sin.

An imposing set featuring a stone clad outer wall of the convent complete with iron gates, a beautiful statue of the Madonna + magnificent stained glass window, effectively lit from behind. A central floor area was also used to great effect as the 16 nuns went about their daily chores.

This all female cast did justice to this infrequently performed opera. Michele Restieux (The Princess - Angelica's Aunt), stunningly costumed, gave a fine performance in her cold austere role but Helen Hardwick triumphed as the troubled soul Angelica. Her powerful voice was truly inspiring in what must surely be one of Pucinni's most moving arias Senza mamma (Without your mother). Her poignant repentance to the Virgin brought this memorable production to an emotional climax.

Pagliacci opened the second half, and again using the central floor space to accommodate a vast ensemble of villagers and travelling players, brought an atmosphere of fun and excitement. However the merriment soon turns sour as the clown Tonio becomes ensnared into a love triangle and as the amorous relationship unravels resentment, bitterness and retribution are unleashed with tragic consequences.

The soloists were exceptional, opening with William Revels (Tonio) as the lovesick twisted clown. Karen Orchin (Nedda), a regular member of the company, as always brought her evocative character to life and sang with great clarity. The engaging Rob Piatt (Silvio) gave a convincing portrayal of the love interest, however the star of the show has to be Mark Lanahan (Canio) with his compelling rendition of Vesti la giubba (On with the motley). His ultimate betrayal and subsequent revenge brought this very professional and successful show to a conclusion.

Comes highly recommended and not surprisingly playing to a capacity audience.