Cavalleria Rusticana – Review – Leeds Grand
By Sandra Callard, September 2017
Opera North’s innovative productions of The Little Greats continues apace with Pietro Mascagni’s masterpiece Cavalleria rusticana, his short and powerful opera of one act containing one of the most beautiful Intermezzo’s in opera.
Set in Sicily, an island dominated by the church and the Mafia in equal proportions, it is a story of love spurned and revenged. The scene is Easter Sunday, the setting is relatively modern; bells are tolling, all are coming and going to church, and Lucia proudly watches her son ,Turiddu, as he represents Christ on the cross. It is a beautiful scene which lucidly demonstrates the hold of religion in Sicily at the time.
Turiddu has seduced Santuzza, a local village girl. She is very devout and loves him intensely, but is hopelessly infatuated with Lola, a beautiful woman who toys with him, then marries Alfio. Turidda’s jealousy is obsessive as he abuses and spurns Santuzza, and attempts to reignite his affair with Lola.
Turiddu is sung by Jonathan Stoughton, an imposing and impressive tenor. He creates a wholly believable Turiddu, whose uncontrollable infatuation has broken all the bounds of society and religion.
Santuzza, a towering performance from Giselle Allen, is also out of control with despair at Turiddu’s cruelty, a despair which turns to revenge as she tells Lola’s husband, Alfio, of the affair. Phillip Rhodes plays Alfio with a subdued and seething anger, whilst Lola, played by Katie Bray, retreats into herself, horrified at the revelation, and waits for the fallout. Katie Bray is an impressive regular at Opera North, and as Lola she has only one aria to sing. This is ‘Fior di giaggiola’ which she performs with a delightfully coquettish verve as she puts her considerable stamp on Lola.
Opera North’s reputation and competence seems to increase with each production, and the cast here is faultless. Contralto Rosalind Plowright as Lucia, Turiddu’s mother, has practically no positive action on stage and is motionless most of the time, but she evinces such a powerful aura of shame, despair and disbelief at her son’s conduct, that she needs no movement.
However, the night belonged to Giselle Allen. Her frantic and increasingly desperate appeals as she tries to win back Turiddu, are exceptionally well done, and as his rebuttals bite deeper into her misery, her presentation excels. She crowns her performance with an exhilarating and beautiful performance of the aria “Voi lo sapete”.
Mascagni wrote fifteen operas, of which Cavalleria rusticana was the first. It would never be bettered and is still riding high in the popularity stakes. This production by Opera North will assure its continued longevity.