‘Pagliacci’ shines at Israel Opera

The dancers delivered a stunning performance as acrobats and clowns, including a jack-in-the-box that nearly reached the celling.

A SCENE from ‘Pagliacci' (photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
A SCENE from ‘Pagliacci'
(photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)

The Sunday evening premiere of Pagliacci at the Israeli Opera, with tenor Samuele Simoncini as Canio, soprano Elisa Cho as Nedda and baritone Ionut Pascu as Tonio, began with the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag screened in solidarity with Kiev and ended with director Inbal Pinto bowing to applause for her efforts in depicting human souls attempting to break free from puppet strings that wish to control their every move.

The Ruggero Leoncavallo opera, so famous even the Joker (the late César Romero) sang an aria from it in the 1960s Batman television show, tells the tragic tale of how Canio realizes his wife Nedda is unfaithful to him and succumbs to murderous rage to assuage his fears he is not a real man but a clown.

Seeing as Canio and Nedda are actors, the opera employs characters from the Commedia dell’arte to suggest that, even if the tears actors shed are false, artists weep in earnest when they labor on their craft.

Canio plays Pagliaccio (clown), a drunk with an unfaithful wife (Colombina). Colombina (Nedda) disdains Taddeo, a stuttering character employed for comic effects and, in the opera, played by the villain – Tonio.

The handsome Arlecchino, played by Beppe in the opera (here, tenor Eitan Drori), is the man Colombina loves while being chained to an ill-fitting husband.

In the allegedly real slice of life Leoncavallo created, Nedda is in love with Silvio (baritone Julien Van Mellaerts) who promises her a so-called normal life, away from the stage.

During the aria “Decidi il mio destin” (Decide my destiny), when Silvio sings “S’è ver che t’è in odio/ il ramingar e’l mestier che tu fai... fuggi, fuggi con me!” (if it is true that you hate/ the nomadic life you lead... fly, fly with me!), the dancers behind them present table maps and household items, hinting that the life this solid Joe offers the star actress will be filled with unglamorous chores of a housewife. 

Director Inbal Pinto sketched over 100 characters and taught herself animation, Shany Littman reports in Haaretz, to transform the 1892 opera to a contemporary artistic triumph. 

The dancers delivered a stunning performance as acrobats and clowns, including a jack-in-the-box that nearly reached the celling.

During the Sunday evening performance, several children attended. No doubt their parents hoped the presence of clowns and the brevity of the opera, which is 90 minutes long, would make it palatable to the very young.

Tonio, who plays an abnormal character and is also deformed, is whipped in rejection by Nedda. Pascu plays a bad guy with talent and heart. When he sings “So ben che difforme, contorto son io; che desto soltanto lo scherno e l’orror/ Eppure ha’l pensiero un sogno” (I know that I am ugly and misshapen/ and arouse only scorn and horror/ Yet in my thoughts is a dream), the audience feels it.

It is this cruelty, by a troubled woman trapped between a theater life built for her by an older, more powerful man who took her from the streets (Canio) and a kind, but very normal sort of man (Silvio), that gets this tragedy going.

Pagliacci, by Ruggero Leoncavallo at the Israeli Opera, is conducted by Daniele Callegari, with the singers alternating their performances daily (which means Tonio is also played by Hansung Yoo, Canio by Luis Chapa, Nedda by Alla Vasilevitsky, and Beppe by Eitan Drori).

Dates: February 28,, March 1, March 3, March 4, March 5, March 6, March 8,  www.israel-opera.co.il/eng/