Tuesday, July 23

Opera North: Cavalleria rusticana / Aleko –The Lowry

Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana is usually paired with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci but director Karolina Sofulak has made an inspired choice to pair it with Rachmaninov’s rarely heard Aleko with some subtle and intricate linking of the two pieces which by and large comes off.

In Cavalleria rusticana, it transpires that Turiddù (Andrés Presno) and Lola (Helen Évora) were once lovers, but when he left to join the army, Lola married another man, Alfio (Robert Hayward). Although Turridù finds consolation in the arms of Santuzza (Giselle Allen), his obsessive passion for Lola still burns fiercely as he supports his mother Lucia (Anne-Marie Owens), setting the stage for a tale of faithlessness, jealousy and violence, set in a rural community where the church maintains an iron grip on the souls of its people.

Opera North: Aleko

In Rachmaninov’s first opera, Aleko (Hayward) has turned his back on the restrictions of conventional society and joined a marginalised community where he fell in love with a young woman, Zemfira (Elin Pritchard), but her love for him has grown cold and she finds solace in the arms of a young lover (Presno), somewhat mirroring her mother who had left her father (Matthew Stiff) for another man. Driven on by the unforgiving code of honour he has inherited, Aleko exacts a bloody vengeance for this betrayal before the appearance of a woman (Owens) reminds us that we cannot escape our fate.

By setting the second piece several years later, Sofulak has cleverly combined Alfio/Aleko as one character who is destined to repeat his earlier experiences whilst exhibiting the same response, and the ghostly reappearances of Lola and Santuzza reinforce this as well as adding to the mired motivation of Aleko.

Set and lighting designer Charles Edwards provides two very contrasting scenes with Cavalleria rusticana re-set from Sicily to a pre-Solidarity Poland where opportunism and religion compete over bare shelves. It’s a bleak portrayal and not one the audience immediately warmed to or even understood but the central use of the crucifix created a superbly iconic Magdalene moment.

In Aleko, we see a free-wheeling Bohemian environment much richer in colour in terms of set and costume from Gabrielle Dalton, which supported the overriding story arc that irrespective of where you may be, you cannot escape destiny.

Opera North: Cavalleria rusticana

Haywood delivers a somewhat introspective and pragmatic characterisation for both roles, although seemed more at ease with the vocal the second piece, whilst Presno was full of wrought emotion as Turiddù although it was unclear how much this was carried through to the vocal like Haywood was more comfortable as the lover. Stiff provides the necessary moral backbone at the start of Aleko but the role is never developed beyond that.

The strength of both pieces lies with the female characterisation with Évora delivering an elegant and enigmatic Lola whilst Allen caught the contrary emotions of Santuzza in a well-acted and well sung performance.  Owens reflects the all knowing mother who is not as surprised by her son’s behaviour as we would expect and returns in the second piece to close the circle. Pritchard’s Zemfira is every bit the vivacious strong young woman embracing her freedom and I enjoyed her all-round performance.

Antony Hermus superbly conducts the Orchestra of Opera North with the music of Cavalleria suitably restrained to reflect the direction whilst delighting in the razzmatazz of Rachmaninov, and both perfectly complemented by a well-choreographed Chorus whose ensemble performances throughout brought a real majesty to proceedings.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 20th March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.