Ver­i­ta­ble verismo: blood, guts and all!

Wexford People - - NEWS - BY ANNA HAYES

MY FIRST ex­pe­ri­ence of opera as an adult was a dou­ble-bill of Stravin­sky’s ‘Pul­cinella’ and Bu­soni’s ‘Ar­lecchino’ in John­stown Cas­tle in 2007 which, for any­one who at­tended, was an ex­pe­ri­ence on its own.

I re­mem­ber greatly en­joy­ing both of­fer­ings and when a dou­ble-bill was an­nounced for this year’s fes­ti­val I thought it was a good move that gives new­com­ers a di­gestible taster, and more reg­u­lar go­ers a chance to see two vari­a­tions on a sim­i­lar style of opera.

Both Franco Leoni’s ‘L’Ora­colo’ and Um­berto Gior­dano’s ‘Mala Vita’ are verismo op­eras, works that are rooted in more re­al­is­tic set­tings than the usual opera fare. That re­al­is­tic world is usu­ally a bit darker and grit­tier. We are shown two very dif­fer­ent, real worlds in these two of­fer­ings.

‘L’Ora­colo’ is set in early 1900s San Fran­cisco, in the seedy opium dens of Chi­na­town where Cim Fen rules the streets but has his eye on a price­less jewel in the lo­cal mer­chant, Hu Tsin’s house. Across town, San Lui, the son of a re­spected doc­tor, is in love with Hu Tsin’s niece Ah-Joe. When Cim Fen kid­naps Hu Tsin’s son Hu Chi, how­ever, things are headed for a bloody end­ing.

The most strik­ing thing about this work, and its part­ner­ing work, is the set – a large, three-storey, ro­tat­ing con­struc­tion that bears all the hall­marks of a grimy back al­ley on one side, and a re­spectable neigh­bour­hood, a mer­chant’s store, etc on the oth­ers. It al­lows for flu­id­ity of move­ment that makes us feel like we are walk­ing around the city with our char­ac­ters, and gives dra­matic ef­fect to cer­tain scenes like San Lui and Ah-Joe’s morn­ing duet, which is also su­perbly lit.

Ser­gio Es­co­bar as San Lui gives us a taster of his vo­cal range with a melodic hum; it is a pre­cur­sor to his duet with Elis­a­betta Far­ris’s Ah-Joe that shows off a boom­ing, pow­er­fully emo­tional voice.

Joo Won Kang is suit­ably men­ac­ing as Cim Fen, skulk­ing in and out of scenes, creep­ing around corners and nab­bing his vic­tim.

Leon Kim, as Uin Sci, is heart­break­ingly con­vinc­ing

as the be­reaved fa­ther turned venge­ful and his fi­nal scene is well por­trayed as he first turns to bru­tal mur­der and dis­mem­ber­ment, be­fore help­lessly hand­ing him­self over to the po­lice.

A spe­cial word has to go to the Chil­dren’s Cho­rus who bring a mar­vel­lously busy mar­ket and pa­rade scene to life, in­ter­act­ing with the var­i­ous stalls and ven­dors, all in full voice. Ap­plause too has to be given to young Cil­lian McCam­ley as Hu Chi who, even at such a young age, com­mands a pres­ence in his non-speak­ing role – drag­ging his fa­ther’s hand to­wards things in the mar­ket, or flee­ing the evil Cim Fen.

The sec­ond of­fer­ing, ‘Mala Vita’ sees some of the cast play­ing their sec­ond role of night, most no­tably Es­co­bar as the lead­ing man Vito, a young man dy­ing of con­sump­tion.

De­spite his tryst with a lo­cal mar­ried woman, he makes a pact with God to marry a ‘fallen woman’ if he should cure his ill­ness, much to his mis­tress’s dis­gust. When pros­ti­tute Cristina en­ters the scene, the points

on the love tri­an­gle be­come ever sharper.

Es­co­bar’s star shines brightly for the sec­ond time in the night in this opera, the de­cent, hon­ourable man of ‘L’Ora­colo’ mor­ph­ing into a self-pre­serv­ing and selfish one in Vito - the en­tire pro­duc­tion is a call­ing card for his ver­sa­til­ity and range. His duet with Francesca Tiburzi’s Cristina is rich and melodic. For her part, Tiburzi cap­tures the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of her char­ac­ter, par­tic­u­larly in her in­ter­ac­tions with Amalia, and in her shock­ing fi­nale. She is the only char­ac­ter we can gen­uinely sym­pa­thise with in her plight.

Dorothea Spil­ger stomps in and out of the scene with great gusto and au­thor­ity, and her vo­cal show­down with Cristina is a high point in the piece.

Mu­si­cally, ‘Mala Vita’ is the stronger of the works with richer, more af­fect­ing mo­ments of emo­tion, bar­ring the fan­tas­tic duet be­tween San Lui and Ah-Joe in ‘L’Ora­colo’. Mar­ried to­gether, an au­di­ence is given a nice rounded rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Ital­ian re­al­ist move­ment.

Pic­ture: Clive Barda

Leon Kim, Ben­jamin Cho, Elis­a­betta Far­ris and Cil­lian McCam­ley in ‘L’ora­colo’ by Leoni.

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