"Pagliacci" brings laughter and tears

Angela Gheorghiu stars in "Pagliacci" at the Music Center. Photo by Sasha Gusov

The golden couple of opera, (Mr. and Mrs.) Angela Gheorghiu and Robert Alagna, performed admirably in the resurrected production of “Pagliacci” (Clowns) at the Music Center. Gheorghiu was delightful to watch and to listen to. She plays a beautiful Nedda, married to Canio, the clown, but in love with another man. The big surprise was the performance of Alagna, who had to sing the famous aria “Vesti, la giubba,” which has always been associated with Enrico Caruso. He was amazingly good as he expressed the irony of having to make people laugh while his heart was breaking. He brought tears to one’s eyes, as required.

This was a return of the elaborate production by Franco Zeffereli, which rivals any opera setting or, for that matter, any circus, in terms of pizzazz. The curtain opens on a square in some small town in Italy, at some time in the recent past, and we see an apartment building with its windows filled with people, some watching television, some drinking, some taking in the action below. The stage is filled with a motley assortment of villagers, all resplendent in colorful clothes.

The members of Canio’s touring company arrive with a bang, literally. With drums and horns, the performers overwhelm the square. There are jugglers, stilt walkers, acrobats, tumblers, all accompanied by balloons and confetti. It’s a great scene and one can imagine how excited the villagers must be. The costumes of the performers are a delight and one must appreciate the creativity of designer Raimonda Gaetani. Zeffirelli himself was responsible for the set design while Marco Gandini did a wonderful job as director.

Other cast members made important contributions in minor roles. Alberto Mastromarino is scary as Tonio who spies on Nedda and reveals her adultery to Canio. Mariusz Kwiecien is an emotional Silvio, Nedda’s lover, and Greg Fedderly plays Beppe, another clown.

The Los Angeles Opera Orchestra was conducted by Nicola Luisotti who brought poignancy and elegance to the beautiful music of Ruggero Leoncavallo.

This opera is comparatively short, running less than two hours, but a great deal of drama is packed into it.