Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sarasota Opera offers a powerful "Pagliacci"

   “Pagliacci” has a reputation as a short opera. In fact,  it’s usually presented with another opera on the same program.
    The current Sarasota Opera production presents “Pagliacci” by itself. It’s a thoroughly satisfying experience; the addition of another piece wouldn’t make the evening any more worthwhile.
    “Pagliacci" itself is compact rather than short – its action and its moods move swiftly, and it ends at the moment of its dramatic climax. In terms of length, this production, including intermission, runs about the same as a typical movie or play.

   The Sarasota Opera production is gorgeously designed and movingly acted and sung.

  "Pagliacci" photo  by Rod Millington
   The program opens with two short pieces performed by the Sarasota Orchestra. It’s a perfect appetizer for the feast ahead. The orchestra performs two intermezzi by Pietro Mascagni. He’s the composer of “Cavallera Rusticana,” the short opera most often paired with “Pagliacci.”
    Both the pieces, which aren’t often played outside of the context of their own operas, are poignantly lovely, and the Sarasota Orchestra, conducted by the opera’s artistic director Victor DeRenzi, performs them impeccably.
    After a prologue, sung in front of the curtain, the audience gets it first look at David P. Gordon’s set. It’s very pretty, complex and functional -- a stage on which the play-within-the opera is performed, an open space where the play’s audience gathers, and landscape features where the story of romance and betrayal plays out, all in one set.
    There are no weak links in the large cast – which includes members of the Sarasota Youth Opera as part of the chorus – but standouts include MIchael Robert Hendrick as Canio (who becomes Pagliaccio in the play) and Marco Nistico as Tonio, the hunchback.

   That story has to do with a traveling theater troupe that arrives in an Italian village to perform a comedy about a clown (Pagliaccio). Just before the show, Tonio finds out that Canio’s wife Nedda is betraying him with a local man.
    The devastated Canio realizes he must go on stage and portray a clown. But during the play parallels Canio’s life, sending him into a murderous rage. The audience only gradually realizes that they are no longer watching a play. The anguished Canio sings the legendary closing line, “The comedy is finished” – as the curtain closes. Stephanie Sundine’s direction is remarkably fluid, especially given the size of the cast and he complexity of the single set. Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s costumes are beautifully colorful.

   The story is terse and powerful, the music is melodic and familiar (Canio’s at the end of act one is as famous as any piece of opera music ever written), and this production serves the music and the story in a wonderful way. It’s a great season-opened for the Sarasota Opera.
    It runs though Nov. 15 at the Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Curtain is at  8 p.m. 11 and 13 and 1:30 p.m. Nov. 15. Tickets run $19-$125. Call 941-366-8450 or go to

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