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Pagliacci with Opera Southwest

Pagliacci with Opera Southwest

The Opera Southwest production of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” is being staged at the National Hispanic Cultural Center at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 31 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 2. The NHCC is located at 1701 Fourth SW. “Pagliacci” is sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Tickets range from $15-$85 with discounts for groups and for patrons who are 30 and younger. Tickets are available at www.operasouthwest.org, at www.nhccnm.org, by calling 243-0591 or at the NHCC box office.

By David Steinberg

Silvio and Nedda Pagliacci opera Southwest

Silvio (Paul Bower) and Nedda (Cammy Cook) are in love and danger in “Pagliacci.” Photo by Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography.

In his opera “Pagliacci,” Ruggero Leoncavallo gives the audience a taste of the passions – and the violence – that can flow from a love triangle. Canio and Nedda are unhappily married. Nedda has a lover named Silvio, but jealous Canio doesn’t know who he is.

Canio and Nedda are actors in a traveling theater company that pulls up in a southern Italian village. The company is presenting a play with commedia dell’arte clowns (in which Canio and Nedda portray a husband and wife caught in a love triangle).

Learning of his wife’s infidelity, the heartbroken Canio sings the famous aria “Vesti la giubba” at the end of Act I before he assumes the role of the clown Pagliaccio. In Act II, before the play concludes, an enraged Canio steps out of his role and stabs Nedda and Silvio to death.

Canio/Pagliaccio announces dramatically, “The comedy is ended.”

Tenor Raul Melo, who is Canio in the Opera Southwest production, said you can’t excuse his character’s murderous behavior.

“But he’s not a villain. All he wants to do is go after the man who’s been messing with his wife and she won’t give him up,” Melo said. “(Canio’s murders) are crimes of passion, not premeditated.”

Given those relationships, there’s a lot going on in the opera.

Canio / Pagliacci the clown

Raul Melo sings the lead role of Canio in Opera Southwest’s production of “Pagliacci.” Photo by Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography.

The major thrust for the Cuban-born Melo is what Leoncavallo explains immediately in the prologue – that these are very difficult emotions the singers are portraying for audiences and those portrayals make listeners think about life.

“Where it gets crazy is the clown show. It’s the same story he’s living, of the cuckolded husband. So it becomes art imitating life imitating art,” said Melo, who has been a principal understudy at the Metropolitan Opera.

Melo said his character has real feelings. He’s not a clown.

Singing Nedda in the Opera Southwest production is soprano Cammy Cook, who sang the role in a University of New Mexico Opera Theatre production as an alumni artist.

Cook doesn’t think there is a clear-cut villain or hero in the opera.

“There’s a light and dark side to the three main characters,” she said. “Nedda is stuck in a marriage with a domineering husband, in a life she doesn’t love.”

There is an indication, Cook said, that Canio had found Nedda starving on the side of the road. So she knows what it’s like to be without any protection. Yet she fears for what might happen to her if she quits her marriage.

“She sees the hatred her husband is capable of, that bad things will happen. And in fact they do,” Cook said. “We all agree she’s very much in love with Silvio and for the first time discovers what true love is.”

She has sung with the New Mexico Philharmonic and was in the chorus of the Santa Fe Opera production of “Fidelio” in 2014.

Carlos Archuleta is Tonio in “Pagliacci” at the NHCC. Photo by Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography.

Paul Bower sings Silvio, Carlos Archuleta is Tonio, and Michael David Gray is Beppe, another clown.

There are also an adult chorus and a children’s chorus. “They all sing together. They represent the (village) at large, and what’s valuable in the world – family, love, ideals, growing old together,” said Pat Diamond, the stage director of the production. Diamond is a New York-based freelance stage director who grew up in Albuquerque.

Diamond said the production is set in post-World War II. Men are wearing fedoras and single-breasted suits with vests. Women’s dresses reveal styles of the late 1930s, early ‘40s.

“Part of the reason it is set in that period is because it’s a recognizable popular cultural period to us – that realism is something that was in Italy, which was returning to the arts.”

The post-fascist period saw, he said, neo-realism in Italian films like Fellini’s “La Strada.”

That neo-realism, Diamond said, “fits in with the verismo of the opera.”

Maestra Zoe Zeniodi is Opera Southwest’s first female conductor. She will lead the orchestra in “Pagliacci” from March 26-April 2. Photo by Petros Lykos.

Zoe Zeniodi, the Greek guest conductor of the Opera Southwest production, said Leoncavallo’s opera is a predecessor of verismo, the growing late 19th century tradition of realism in opera. The opera premiered 125 years ago in Milan, Italy.

“The emotions are brought out totally,” Zeniodi said. “The composer shows that when he’s talking about real life, he uses a certain type of music. And when he’s talking about the comedy, the play, it’s a different music so we know, musically, where we are to understand the staging.”

After Albuquerque, Zeniodi will go to Florida to conduct a farewell concert as music director of the Broward Symphony Orchestra, then to Dallas, Tex., with the Institute for Women Conductors, followed by a reunion with Opera San Francisco.

“After that I go to New York for my Carnegie Hall debut conducting Beethoven with the New England Symphonic Ensemble,” she said.