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America Oggi February 6, 2005

Praiseworthy mounting of Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni on the part of Chelsea Opera, a company small in size but with tremendous heart.

by Tony Abruzzese

Mascagni is served, truly as he deserves, with passion, invovlement and respet. And smaller does not necessarily signify less important or things neglected. We are speaking of Cavalleria Rusticana, the verismo masterpiece which consecrated the pinnacle of the lyric stage and of Chelsea Opera of Manhattan, a little company in size but grand for results and quality.

A company minimal in size, reduced to the essentials, but with such good intentions, an incomparable passion and above all, a production such as this new one, of Cavalleria, is most dignified, and from the artistic point of view surprisingly good. Obviously, it cannot be compared with those theatres of greater reputation, or certainly not to older Zeffirelli-like forms but it is one that goes instead quickly to the point, without frills and without rhetoric. Minimal yes, but applauded most enthusiastically.

The echo has not yet disappeared for Puccini's Suor Angelica which began the company’s story, which one hopes will be for a long time, with the thrill that has already been renewed with Lola, Turiddu, Santuzza and Alfio in the quintessential example of Italian verismo, presented in the last week of January at St. Peter's Church in the popular neighborhood of Chelsea (for which the company is named).

Chelsea Opera, which on this occasion availed itself of the contribution of the Chelsea Opera Chamber Orchestra, was created barely a year ago by Leonarda Priore and Lynne Hayden-Findlay, both opera singers, convinced that a small company which they had in mind would be able to find a place in the crowded world such as exists in New York. And the results, let along the critical consensus up to this point, have confirmed the pair's optimistic foresight. The seriousness of their intentions was confirmed moreover by the preparation and the meticulousness with which they thought out the production. For this Cavalleria infact, there were daily rehearsals throughout the month: testimony to the solidity and the non-fatuousness of the undertaking, let alone the determination, leaving nothing to chance.

And in this case, as it was handled, how easy it is to envision this thrifty production where truly the passion for the art dominated and as a result became purer, returning to the true origins of classical opera.

As we know, Cavalleria Rusticana takes place in a Sicilian town in 1870, on Easter Sunday, with the love triangle of Turiddu-Lola-Santuzza tragically shattered by the furious jealousy (and knife) of Alfio. Passion in the extreme, Mediterranean love, heat and colors, and above all, a grand, unforgettable score, with arias that gives one chills. We are thinking among others,O Lola, hai di latti la cammisa, (Turiddu), Il cavallo scalpita (Alfio), the chorus Inneggiamo al Signore (with Santuzza and Mamma Lucia), Voi lo sapete o mamma (Turiddu) [sic] and Mamma quell vino è generoso (Turiddu's farewell to his mother).

Anna Niedbala's Lola was seductive, coquettish and to be envied like few others, and no less impressive was Barbara Burnham Fox's Mamma Lucia, and above all Grace Valdes' sensitive Santuzza. At the crux of the action was Michael Wade Lee's Turiddu and Ian Geller's Alfio. The Intermezzo was moving, as was the chorus' ecstatic hymn to the Resurrection. Justly merited, therefore, was the enthusiastic applause that crowned the production and that underlined the most touching moments of the evening. Now, what remains, is the wait for the next one: what will it be and when?

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