Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci – Toronto Opera Repertoire

By Darryl D’Souza

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I went to the operas Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci as part of a double bill at the Bickford Centre Theatre put on by the Toronto Opera Repertoire. I was thoroughly engrossed during the performances of both and impressed by the experience.

What impressed me most was the calibre of the singing. In my opinion, the calibre of the singing is the ultimate litmus test for judging whether any opera is a success or failure. While the Bickford Centre Theatre is certainly not the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, (the home of the Canadian Opera Company), and in all truth seems more like a high school gymnasium than a theatre per se, the singing was as good – if not better – than what you’d expect to hear at the average Canadian Opera Company performance.

If you feel like opera is not for you, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, our motto here at Mooney on Theatre is: “Theatre is for everyone…so how come it doesn’t feel that way?”. If this is true of theatre in general, it’s even more true of opera. Ever since its inception over 300 hundred years ago, due to high ticket prices, seeing opera has been almost solely the privilege of the bourgeois class. 

It’s time for the average Joes and Janes of the bourgeoisie and working classes to UNITE and take opera back for the masses. You have nothing to lose but …perhaps missing one night of Doritos and bad television. With the Toronto Opera Repertoire’s affordable opera tickets, where all seats (with no class divisions) are a mere $25 for adults and $15 for seniors and students, opera is finally something everyone can afford.

My friend Brandon, who like many of you readers had never been to an opera before, accompanied me. Brandon really liked Cavalleria Rusticana, loved Pagliacci and was particularly in awe of singer Hanny Djuwati and pianist Valentin Bogolubov, saying, “He was really good”. Bogolubov, who has conducted at the famous Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, provided the orchestral scores to both operas. While most operas have a pit full of musicians playing a wide variety of instruments, the only instrument heard during these operas is the piano, perhaps due to spatial constraints.

The only thing that really bothered me about the production were the surtitles (like subtitles, but over the stage instead of below). Both operas are in Italian with English surtitles. The Toronto Opera Repertoire projected the surtitles onto the roof (rather than the unused space at the top of the stage), making it very difficult to read them and watch the action on stage at the same time.

Surtitles aside, I really did love these short operas. They were very different from each other, and yet they complimented each other quite well. Both operas contained a cuckolded spouse whose possessive love leads him to murder, but Cavalleria Rusticana felt more like bad melodrama to me, whereas Pagliacci seemed more like a great Greek -or even Shakespearean – tragedy. Despite its melodrama, I still loved Cavalleria Rusticana because of the great singing.

Sadly, since I went to see these operas so late in their run, this review won’t reach you in time to see Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci, or even the Toronto Opera Repertoire’s other concurrent production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. But you can still experience what Toronto Opera Repertoire has to offer. You can either wait until their next season, which I’m eagerly anticipating, or check out one of the two nights of free operatic gems. 

Yes, on Wednesday March 10 and Thursday March 11 at 7:30 pm, you can head to the Bickford Centre Theatre (777 Bloor St. W at Christie), to hear a FREE night of famous pieces culled from over 8 different popular operas. No advance tickets are needed and donations will be accepted at the door or online. 

Either way, you can keep up to date on Toronto Opera Repertoire news on their website at http://www.toronto-opera.com/

(Photo by James Thomson of: Tetyana Shkymba as Nedda and Giovanni Minardi as Silvio in Pagliacci)