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Capital Opera’s production of Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana was obviously a great pleasure to the large audience in Meredith College’s Jones Auditorium. The singers of the major roles offered fine performances; the chorus was effective for the most part, and the orchestra played well. Conductor Scott Tilley gave the careful direction all the singers needed and did not allow extensive audience applause to retard movement of the drama.
But the basic reason why everyone present enjoyed the production is the fact that this work is a high-class soap opera in which every word is clothed in beautiful, very effective music. Although this opera may well be described as overly sentimental and the drama leads to a conclusion which anyone would have seen coming, no one — not even this music critic — could fail to respond to its great human appeal: the story of love, with its lovely heroine seduced by a man she trusted, the cheating wife who stole his affections, and the angry husband who brings all this conflict to a tragic end.
The principal singers brought all this soap drama to vivid life with fine singing and acting. Taquisha Coley Rice as Santuzza has the superb dramatic soprano required in this role. She was able to win and sustain the audience’s sympathy for Santuzza with her touching opening prayer as she stood outside the church, forbidden to enter because of her obvious pregnancy. Her conversations with Mamma Lucia, who listens to Santuzza’s confession in the aria “Voi lo sapete, o Mamma” of her unwise love for Lucia’s son Turiddu and the way she is rejected by him in his passion for Lola, was very appealing. Rice’s voice is capable of many levels of expression, from tenderness and sorrow to great passion. Her climactic high notes in this aria amply conveyed the anguish of one who loves in vain. Throughout the opera Rice’s superb voice made the character of Santuzza come alive.
The other female roles were also brought to life by very capable singers. Soprano Melinda Whittington as Lola made every woman in the audience want to hiss at a character who lacks scruples as she cheats on her husband with Turiddu and abuses Santuzza before the many villagers at the church. Although she had fewer chances to shine vocally than Rice, Whittington made the most of her opportunities. Jennifer Gaspar’s appealing, warm dramatic voice made her an excellent Mamma Lucia, who seems to be the only one in the village capable of understanding Santuzza’s plight.
Both of the principal male singers performed exceedingly well. William McCulloch as Turiddu has a fine, very powerful tenor voice with excellent dramatic qualities and gives an audience a clear understanding of a man ruled entirely by passion for a woman who can never belong to him. McCulloch’s voice revealed only one flaw: a tendency to sound tight, sometimes uncomfortably so, in sustained high phrases. His rival Alfio, husband of Lola, came to admirable life in the powerful baritone voice of Andrew Oakden, whose strong acting and vocal skill conveyed the rage of a man planning to square accounts with anyone having an affair with Lola. The scene in which the outraged Alfio challenges Turiddu to a duel to the death for the latter’s crimes against him is one of the strongest vocal and dramatic confrontations in the opera.
The chorus is an important entity in Cavalleria rusticana because of its many dramatic reactions to the conflicts and outbursts of the major characters. All the members of the chorus had an excellent vocal sound; in some instances, however, their volume and emotional reactions to events were not always as strong as they should have been. Their best work came at the end, when their anguished outcries announced the death of Turiddu.
The orchestra, playing a highly effective reduction of the score specially prepared by the conductor for this production, sustained all the singers admirably without covering up any voices. All the instrumentalists performed very well most of the time, but occasionally good listeners could hear some intonation problems in some sections.
I think the audience, including myself, left the theatre satisfied, and everyone in the cast including stage director Wayne Wyman, conductor Scott Tilley, and all the stage, costume and lighting designers deserve just praise for a delightful production.