Brave ascent into arias and airy new ground
By Leeor Adar
It is a wonderful idea in theory to create an amalgamation of opera and circus in production. Both disciplines embody the drama of the human condition, whether through the astonishing highs of an operatic voice to the deep dive taken by the circus performer.
Victorian Opera and the State Opera of South Australia merge here with Circus Oz to bring to life Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. The production begins in humour as one of our characters throws open the curtains and insists on joining the wonderful Orchestra Victoria under concertmaster Roger Jonsson. It’s a clever breakage of the fourth wall, and a nod at the fact we are watching a play within a play, which becomes of greater importance as we move towards Act II.
The dress rehearsal of a Commedia dell’Arte pantomime is slapstick in true tradition, with Circus Oz performers Kate Fryer, Geoffrey Dunstan, D J Garner and Luke Taylor as stage hands, essentially stealing the show from the main action of the dress rehearsal. The stage hands are so effortless in their expression, humour and movement that we as an audience implicitly trust them to flip their bodies and hang off ladders without batting an eye. Unfortunately, Act I is bordering on dull, and when the curtains closed at interval, it was difficult to fathom where Laughter and Tears would take us.
Act II is a very different turn from Act I, undoubtedly as we’ve moved on from the slapstick and now entered the Tears. Tonio, performed with brooding viciousness by the talented baritone James Clayton, is the prologue to the Tears, reminding us that the customs of Commedia are over, and we are now going to witness passion, blood and flesh in Act II.
Disappointingly, the amalgamation of circus and opera does not work well here. There is one exception, and it is occurs when Nedda (soprano Elvira Fatykhova) describes the freedom of birds in nature as Geoffrey Dunstan leaps upon ropes, ever-escalating in height, inspiring awe and heightened pulse rates amongst the audience. This is the amalgamation I was seeking. It was the beauty of Fatykhova’s voice soaring as the body of the performer flung itself into careless abandon. It was breathtaking and brief. Circus Oz took a backseat to the drama of Pagliacci from here on, and it will be worthwhile to utilise their skill in more astonishing ways in future exercises.
It is wonderful to see the famous tenor aria, Vesti La Giubba, performed live by such a talented tenor as Rosario La Spina. As Canio (La Spina) breaks down during this performance, the heart simply stops. The warmth and pathos of his voice is heartbreaking. I was very moved, and in that moment Tears delivered. La Spina’s shaking rage and vulnerability prior to slaying his wife and her lover showcased La Spina’s marvellous talent as a performer.
To see the death-defying leap of bird-song, and the leap of faith taken by Victorian Opera and Circus Oz, you can see Laughter and Tears on Tuesday 16, and Thursday 18 of August at 7:30pm, at The Palais Theatre: http://www.victorianopera.com.au/what-s-on/season-2016/laughter-and-tears/
Image by Jeff Busby