TCO offers dramatic double bill

Reviewed by Tony Villecco

On Wednesday evening (April 24), I attended the final dress rehearsal for Tri-Cities Opera’s double bill of Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci and Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. Let me preface this review by stressing that singers sometimes “mark” or do not sing full out during rehearsals in order to save their voices for performance. While both operas had some fine moments, the two pieces were not totally devoid of problems.

Tenor Kirk Dougherty has moved into a heavier repertoire by taking on the leads in both “Cav” (Turiddu) and “Pag” (Canio). I cannot fairly access his performance as he marked throughout, rarely singing full voice.

In Cavalleria, mezzo Sarah Kennedy successfully highlighted the tormented Santuzza and sang her aria, “Voi lo sapete,”with passion. The role of Alfio was handsomely applied by baritone Patrick McNally who also performed the role of the lover Silvio, in Pagliacci. McNally’s voice and stage presence have both taken some serious strides forward with his impressive swaggering.

Smaller roles in “Cav” are  Turiddu’s mother and Alfio’s unfaithful wife, Lola. Molly Adams-Toomey and Emily Geller, respectively, sang well, and Toomey brought pathos to her character. The chorus had some awkward staging  — peasants arriving in spurts for church — which initially hindered the famous “Easter Chorus,” but the orchestra sounded magnificent as I sat with moist eyes during the famous “Intermezzo.”

There were, however, moments in each opera where Maestro John Mario Di Costanzo seemed to take the rhythm a bit too literally, which both slowed down the action and seemed to hinder both soloists and chorus. Still, he took a firm rein with his fine orchestra producing a lush, even and detailed sound. The orchestra’s bass players, in particular, are to be commended for eliciting great warmth which served to highlight each composer’s dramatic intent.

Perhaps the evening’s standout (if it’s even fair to single out anyone) was soprano Inna Dukach, who sang the role of Nedda in Pagliacci. Her singing was marked by a beauty of tone throughout her vocal registers, and she is a fine actress to boot.

Other “Pag” leads included baritone Robert Heepyoung Oh and tenor Stephen Webb. As Tonio, Oh was superb. His opening prologue, an iconic staple for baritones, was most fine. Webb as Beppe proved he is a singer with both flair and a lovely voice. Leading roles are not far off for him, I suspect.

The  chorus has wonderful moments in both shows and, overall, sang very well with a few minor snags that will no doubt be cleaned up by opening night.

Stage director Martha Collins had some inspired moments, especially in “Pag” with the joviality of the theater troupe and later, in the finale, when the “play within a play” takes on a sinister turn. The doll- or marionette-like movements she encouraged from her Nedda were most effective.

The costumes and sets both appeared designed for economy of space and atmosphere. The peasants’ dresses in “Cav” were appropriately drab while the ones for “Pag” had a bit more flair and color. The effective lighting enhanced the operas’ intense musical heartbreak.

IF YOU GO: Performances of “Cav/Pag,” the final offering of TCO’s 2012-13 season, are at 8 p.m. Friday (April 26) and 3 p.m. Sunday (April 28) at The Forum, 236 Washington St., Binghamton. Both one-act operas will be in Italian with English surtitles. For tickets, call 772-0400.


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3 Responses to "TCO offers dramatic double bill"

  1. Octavian1

    Here is a perfect example as to why performances, and not dress rehearsals, should be reviewed. Mr. Dougherty was ill for opening night (not announced, but very obvious) and was unable to sing the Sunday performance (another tenor was brought in). Conductor John Mario di Costanzo allowed other singers to be overwhelmed by the orchestra, which he failed to keep in sync both with itself and with the singers. His choice of tempi often were either too lyric for these pot-boiler scores or too fast to allow the momentum to build.

    However, even allowing for the disparity between dress rehearsal and performance, it is hard to believe that we saw the same production. It pains me to say that I was extremely disappointed with virtually every aspect, but it was the singing that was most disheartening. Ms. Kennedy has a lovely voice, but her light mezzo was woefully miscast in the vocally demanding role of Santuzza, which in places requires the kind of loud dramatic singing that her lyric voice simply cannot produce. Ms. Dukach has very little center to her voice, and she too was often overwhelmed by the orchestra, while her characterization provided very little to engender sympathy for her plight as a woman caught between her lover and husband. Of the leads only Mr. Oh distinguished himself with his singing — a beautiful voice that is very “present,” even with a too-loud orchestra. If only his acting were to equal his singing, he would be a complete package. Still, he was wonderful vocally.

  2. Tony Villecco

    While I do agree with some of your astute observations, one has to respect the fact that these are very young singers and yes, in some cases should not be doing this repertoire. That said, the reason we review the final dress is to give the opera going public something of a preview before the actual performance. As the Binghamton Press no longer choses to solicit reviews which would normally appear the next day, the Arts Mirror serves as a conduit for this purpose. As a rule, I find Mr. Di Costanzo’s conducting actually very sympathetic to his singers as witnessed at these final dress rehearsals. For this reason I suspect it was lack of ability on the singers part rather than his conducting.

  3. octavian1

    I understand that most of the singers are young. However, Mr. Dougherty and Ms. Dukach are both well into their 30s, with mature voices that should be able to project above an orchestra in the roles they choose to sing. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the orchestra is there essentially to collaborate with, support and accompany the singers, not overpower them. The audience comes to hear the singers, not the orchestra, and I feel it is a bit unfair to place the blame on the singers “lack of ability.” Mr. di Costanzo is the associate artistic director, after all, and these are the singers he chose. It’s the conductor’s job to find a way to allow the singers to be heard (at the very least) and, ideally, to shine. That did not happen.

    I too lament the fact that the Press & Sun Bulletin has chosen to abandon arts coverage in any meaningful way, and I wish they DID still offer reviews. A “preview” is just that, and I’ve attended enough rehearsals of various offerings in various venues to know that a final dress rehearsal is quite often not a good predictor of the actual performance quality, which may be far better or far worse. In the end, that is what we want to know — was the performance itself good, not the rehearsal.