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Pagliacci moves mountains

I am a feminist. This occasionally colors my perception of classical works, making it difficult for me to enjoy some of the pieces that are overtly misogynist or racist. Some pieces are presented in a way that makes it possible to put them back into context and remember they were written hundreds of years ago when sexism and racism were more accepted and overt than they are today. However, I still have problems with The Taming of the Shrew and I was fully expecting Pagliacci to be of its ilk; namely that it would infuriate me with its abuse of women and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the musical impact of the work.

The Seattle Opera took a novel approach to performing this piece, removing the traditional showing of Cavalleria Rusticana from the bill and filling the time with a flashback of Canio and Nedda and a piece of music pulled from other Leoncavalla works. The 11 minute interlude traveled through Canios memory from the time when he and Nedda met (she was very young and he was an adult clown) through to the present day. The music and accompanying circus acts were fascinating in their own right, but they also showed a tenderness between the two that wasn’t displayed in the first act. The growth of the relationship between Canio and Nedda and their happiness together was shown in a way that made it possible to understand Canio better.
My concerns about not enjoying this piece were entirely unfounded. I was absolutely blown away by the opera. I have never been moved by music or performance like I was by Antonello Palombis performance as Pagliacci. I would have thought that I wouldn’t have any sympathy for such a jealous jerk, but the passion and energy Palombi brought to the performance made me cry. It just broke my heart to see him in so much pain. After seeing the way he lavished attention on Nedda in the interlude, it was impossible not to feel for a man whose heartbreak snapped his mind, and Palombis performance brought this state of being home. I think with a lesser actor, it wouldn’t have been as easy to feel that sympathy.

The curtain call showed exactly how much effort Palombi hadput into the final scene. He came out for his bows sobbing with exhaustion. It was a truly beautiful performance, the only one where I felt the need to give a standing ovation. I was privileged to be there.

Originally published at my blog. You can comment here or there.

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