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Kennet Opera - Cav and Pag

13th to 17th November 2001.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Company in fine operatic voice

'CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA' AND 'PAGLIACCI', performed by Kennet Opera, at the Corn Exchange, from Tuesday, November 13, to Saturday, November 17

Opera is arguably the most exposed of the performing arts, and the one in which the level of competence between professionals and amateurs is most marked. So it's hats off to Kennet Opera who, since 1994, have brought to local audiences what is commonly (and increasingly erroneously) regarded as an elitist taste. Opera is attracting bucketfuls of new admirers; once hooked, you're hooked for life.

'Cavalleria Rusticana' and 'Pagliacci' - affectionately 'Cav' and 'Pag' - are short, compatible operas, generally performed together, and both were sung in English.

'Cav', with its themes of passion, betrayal and retribution, catapulted Mascagni to fame at the age of 26. The moving 'Easter Hymn', with its haunting reprises, was beautifully and touchingly sung, led by the commanding voice of Fiona Whitehead as the wronged Santuzza. Hers was the dominant vocal presence of the evening: her accurate, trained voice, emotional phrasing and dramatic skills imbued the role with genuine pathos and depth. Roger Mann's baritone is not a big voice, but as the wronged and vengeful Alfio he was a forceful, intense presence. Margaret Payne as a calming Mamma Lucia tackled her first principal role with the company, and Gay Buchanan brought panache to the part of Lola. In both operas, the well-rehearsed and directed chorus were in fine voice, and the children charming.

In Leoncavallo's 'Pag', a Kennet Opera favourite, Gaylene Ellwood sang Nedda. Her pretty, expressive voice and sassy stage presence were more than matched by newcomer to the company, John Milford, singing Silvio. He is a real find, vocally and dramatically, and their emotional aria communicated tangibly. Tony Rath sang two demanding roles, Turiddu in 'Cav' and Cannio in 'Pag', visibly relaxing in the second as Pagliaccio. As the play becomes a pastiche of reality, he is the archetypal clown making the world laugh while his own heart breaks. Andrew Spaak was a powerful Tonio and Gordon Fry brought humour to the harlequin Beppe.

The operas were produced by Sarah Scott, directed by Sam Spaak, with musical director Stephen Bennett conducting pianists Oliver Williams and Susanna Proudfoot. Those familiar with the music found the ear's memory soon added the full orchestral colour.

Thoughtfully designed sets, effective lighting and well grouped crowd scenes meshed the production together. Costumes were simple but well considered: traditional black in 'Cav', the villagers' skirts trimmed with colour, and 'Pag' performed in casual modern dress. The T-shirts bearing sponsors' names were a clever touch, and the smart programme contributed to the professional feel of the production.