Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

Opera Cleveland's performances of
La voix humaine and Pagliacci

Ironic may be the word that best describes the current productions of Opera Cleveland. November 11, 13 and 14, 2010, in the large State Theatre in Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare, offered its final performances.

The company's productions included La voix humaine and Pagliacci, two short operas played as a full bill. The plot of each deals with the end. La voix humaine deals with the end of a love affair. Pagliacci is the story of a failed marriage and the end of a theatrical company.

This is the last performances of Opera Cleveland—at least for a while. According to a program note titled "State of the Opera," the board of directors will continue to seek help and funds for the program. The program note continued, "During that period we will be on a hiatus from producing main stage opera productions."

La voix humaine was composed by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) in 1959. The libretto is by Jean Cocteau (1889-1963). Cocteau wrote La voix humaine, a monodrama, in 1930.

The woman (identified in the program only as Elle) in La voix humaine was sung by Robin Follman, a gifted soprano. Unfortunately, Cocteau's libretto deals with a woman who is talking to her ex-lover on the telephone. After a long relationship, he has left her for another woman. He is to marry the other woman on the next day. The woman we watch plots ways to get him back. She even threatens suicide. The melodramatic story becomes tiresome after a short time. This production is salvaged by the variety in Poulenc's music.

The second opera on the program was Pagliacci. Written by Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857-1919) and first performed in 1892, Pagliacci continues to be one of the most frequently produced operas in North America. According to Opera America, in 2007, Pagliacci ranked #14 on the list of the 20 most frequently produced operas on the continent.

After the intermission, Follman returned for the second half of the evening's performance as Nedda, the unfaithful wife in Pagliacci. In addition to her vocal abilities, Follman is a strong actress. Too often in performances of operas, the performers sing and don't consider acting. Follman makes her characters believable. I watched much of the performance through opera glasses and noted her facial expressions, which were honest and truthful.

Gregory Carroll, tenor, played Canio. Carroll is a large man and his physical stature makes him perfect for the clown and for the husband who kills his wife after she has an affair with another man. Carroll has received a number of awards for his singing ability. He is a relatively young man and we may expect a long, exciting career for him.

Michael Chioldi, baritone, played Tonio in a physical, masculine style. He swaggered and fought and demanded sex of Nedda. His physicality compliments his spectacular voice. He has performed several times in the Metropolitan Opera House.

The Opera Chorus, 37 singers strong, played the townspeople in the crowd scenes. This group included the Children's Chorus of 13 singers.

Dean Williamson (conductor) led the 47-piece orchestra through both operas. Williamson conducts with restraint that makes the more flamboyant sections of both operas leap out of the orchestra pit and conquer the theatrical house. Although the singers' voices were supported with microphones, Williamson seldom let the orchestra overpower the singers.

With regret we watch the lights dim for Opera Cleveland. We can only hope that as the economy improves, Cleveland will be able to bring back Opera Cleveland and bring many more wonderful evenings of opera in Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare.

State Theatre in Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare
La voix humaine and Pagliacci
November 11, 13, and 14, 2010
La voix humaine music by Francis Poulenc and libretto by Jean Cocteau
Pagliacci written and composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Elle: Robin Follman
Canio: Gregory Carroll
Nedda: Robin Follman
Tonio: Michael Chioldi
Beppe: Philippe Pierce
Silvio: Eric Dubin
Towns people: Opera Cleveland Chorus and Children's Chorus
Mimes: Abby Shew and Audrey Shew
Towns people: Opera Cleveland Chorus and Children's Chorus
Direction by Bernard Uzan
Conducted by Dean Williamson
Chorus Master: CM Shearer
Opera Cleveland performing in the State Theatre in the Cleveland PlayhouseSquare.

- David Ritchey

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