REVIEW: Passionate opera enchants audience


Samantha Zoltanski

Zeffin Quinn Hollis plays the role of Tonio who is in love with Nedda, played by Ashley Wheat in Pagliacci.

Jesse O. Walls Contributor

From its opening music to Canio’s final, mournful notes, “Pagliacci” encompasses such great passion as to delight an entire audience.

The first scene opens with the townsfolk singing as the troupe of traveling actors—the key characters to the story—set up their stage for a performance that will happen later that day. This opening scene is busy, but captures the moment and gives the audience the chance to take in the wonderfully built set and magnificent costumes without having to miss any of the action.

For the convenience of the audience, subtitles were projected above the stage with the English translation to the Italian performance. Though great in theory, the subtitles were almost impossible to follow if one were to watch the action taking place on stage, and with such great choreography and vocal talent, it was next to impossible to turn away just for a moment to read the English translations.

Almost immediately the audience is enchanted with Canio’s—played by Brian Cheney—deep and rich tenor, making it apparent why he is the star of the show. His dramatic and robust voice is sure to please any opera enthusiast and his performance is brilliant.

Tonio is no different. Played by Zeffin Quinn Hollis, Tonio’s fierce and violent passion for Nedda could almost be felt through the timbre of his voice and his body seemed to mirror that passion, making his performance exceptional. The animalistic desires that seemed to course through him in this scene were raw and powerful in his soaring baritone.

Despite having a strong cast, there were a few weak characters.

Silvio, played by Patrick Howle, was missing the passion of the others, seeming almost lackluster following up the high-emotion scene between Nedda and Tonio. His love scene lasted much too long as well, and if not for the perfectly executed choreography, the audience quickly could have become bored of the two lovers professing their love to each other.

Ashley Wheat, who played Nedda, was the complete opposite of Howle. Her vocal range was superb and she did a great job of showcasing it. With her soaring soprano, she worked better on the stage with Hollis, or during her final scene with Cheney. Her voice matched their passion, whereas she outshined Howle, making one wonder why her character was in love with the impassionate Silvio to begin with.

The subtitles did stop during a scene during Friday’s performance where it would have been interesting to know what was going on, but the actions, and the delivery of each syllable, did well to explain all the audience needed to know. However, without the synopsis in the program, one may have easily found themselves lost when Canio started singing his heartache and torture at having to perform as a clown to entertain the audience, when in his heart he felt sorrow. His actions imply this pain, but without knowledge of his turmoil, many aspects of this scene were lost.

The fact the show is set in the Midwest during the Great Depression both adds and takes away from it. With this setting it helps the audience to relate. The costumes and scenery work great to depict the Midwest during this period of time, the Italian lyrics contrast greatly from the setting however, quickly detaching the viewer’s feelings from the true emotion of the story, almost making it seem surrealistic.

The story also unfolded rather quickly, building very little investment from the audience as one action leads into another in an immediate sequence, making most of the story seem to happen conveniently by chance. Its opera at its finest, for those with a short attention span, but for free admission it in an excellent taste of what fine art should be.