On Stage: Pagliacci and Il Tabarro

So I’m sitting on the couch trying to get past level 12 on Tetris when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“Tonight we have a special opera outing.”

“Oh boy. How so?”

“Tonight is a double feature. The classic ‘Pagliacci’ by Ruggero Leoncavallo and “Il Tabarro” by Giacomo Puccini.”

“Seriously? You expect me to sit through two operas in one night? I’m pretty sure that’s against the Geneva Convention.”

“You’ll love them. They are both tales of love, infidelity, jealousy and murder. One of the murders is committed by a clown.”

“Really? Like The Joker?”

“Yes. Exactly like that.”

“Does Batman show up at the end to administer justice?”

“You’ll have to wait and see.”

I had a feeling she was just stringing me along but it didn’t matter, I was going either way. And so it was that we once again wound up at the Loretto-Hilton Center, home to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. As the show was about to begin we were informed that playing the key roles of Luigi (Il Tabarro) and Canio (Pagliacci) would by Michael Hayes, and not the regularly scheduled star, Robert Brubaker. Since I was unfamiliar with both men, it made no difference to me.

tabarro-325The evening opened with “Il Tabarro,” a one-act opera about love, infidelity, jealousy and murder. Michele (Tim Mix) owns a barge on the river. His wife Giorgetta (Emily Pulley) yearns for a life on land and another man. That other man would be Luigi (Michael Hayes), one of Michele’s workers. When Michele finds out about their affair it does not end well.

I liked “Il Tabarro.” It was short and to the point. No long, drawn out musical numbers. No large supporting cast of distracting subplots. The set was sparse and gray to set the mood. The talent all delivered fine performances. It didn’t have any particularly memorable musical pieces but it was a powerful show.

After intermission a bunch of clowns took the stage, marking the beginning of “Pagliacci.” For this go-around Hayes stars as Canio, head of a traveling theater troupe and the star of its show  — “Pagliacci.” His wife Nedda (Kelly Kaduce) dreams of being free like the birds and running off with her lover Silvio (Troy Cook). When Michele — I mean Canio — finds out about their affair it does not end well.

“Pagliacci” is one of the more well-known opera, largely due to the aria that Canio sings at the end of the first act. You’ve heard it, even if you don’t know it. Hayes did a fine job with it, if he’s an understudy he’s a very good one.

As for the rest, the other actors were fine as were the musicians. I found the story a bit long — I could’ve done without the prologue by Tonio (Tim Mix) the troublemaking hunchback and the scene with Silvio and Nedda went far too long. It probably doesn’t help that they’ve paired it with a one-act opera that tells the same story in a much more economical fashion. Otherwise it’s another impressive production by OTSL.

But the best thing about the opera, and the reason I keep going back, is how much joy it brings to The Wife. Seeing her reaction to certain moments and the giddy glow she gets afterwards is more entertaining than any aria sung by a professional.

It even makes up for the lack of Batman.

Pagliacci and Il Tabarro run through June 29. http://opera-stl.org/

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