In the wrong hands, "verismo," the late 19th-century Italian operatictradition that offered "truth" with earthy characters and raw passions,can sometimes seem like little more than a bad soap opera set to music.But the movement toward naturalistic plots included a multitude ofpossible approaches -- on Friday evening, Orlando Opera showed justhow wide-ranging and effective "verismo" can be with an unusual butinteresting double bill of two one-act operas at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre.
As the evening's second work, the company offered a rousing andentertaining production of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana," the1890 potboiler that launched the genre.
The stage of the Carr became an Italian town square, filled with aswirling mass of citizens. Director Elizabeth Bachman smartly solvedthe problem of this hall's smallish space with detailed movements by thelarge number of choristers that were utterly natural and always worthyof close attention.
Against this backdrop, the dysfunctional relationships between Turiddu,sung by Jeffrey Springer, his most recent lover Santuzza, sung by MaryPhillips, and his former fiancée Lola, sung by Sarah Limper, led almostinevitably to Turiddu's death at the hands of Lola's husband Alfio, sungby Donnie Ray Albert.
While these four all gave credible performances, the real stars of thisopera were the members of the Orlando Opera Chorus, who were, as always,very well prepared by chorus master Robin Stamper, and who collectivelysang several of the more memorable tunes of this opera.
Before Mascagni's signature opera came Suor Angelica, the second ofGiacomo Puccini's "Il Trittico" operas. Whether or not onemight describe this work as "verismo," it offered an entirely differentsort of realism.
Static, with almost no real physical action and barely enough plot tofill a long scene, Suor Angelica is nevertheless a psychologicallypenetrating and much more sophisticated work than Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana.
The story centers around the secret anguish felt by Sister Angelica, anun who has been seven years in a convent because of the scandal shecaused by having an illegitimate child. These facts are revealed whenshe is visited by a relative, the Princess, who has come to ask Angelicato renounce any claim to her inheritance in order to remove the stainfrom the family honor. In conversation, the Princess reveals that,unknown to Angelica, the child has died a few years earlier. Aftergiving up her birthright, Angelica is overcome with grief, and the operaends with her suicide.
Melody Moore in the title role and Suzanna Guzman as the Princess wereboth fine singers, but again the most important performers were not theleads.
Puccini's masterful use of the orchestra revealed more of the characters'feelings than anything sung on the stage. Conductor Joseph Colanerishaped the elegant and understated backdrop, which was well played bymembers of the Orlando Philharmonic, for this dramatic scene.
Perhaps the evening's best news is that there were no visible or auralsigns of Orlando Opera's current financial difficulties. The bad news,however, is that those problems -- should they continue -- could mean the endof a worthy company that helps to give Orlando a reputation as more thanan over-sized theme park. Improved attendance at the remaining twoperformances would not hurt the Opera's fundraising efforts.
Scott Warfield is an associate professor of music history at the University of Central Florida.