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Appealing voices in the main roles. An orchestra with zest.

January 27, 2007

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    January 27, 2007
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    Opera Carolina News

Appealing voices in the main roles. An orchestra with zest.

Opera Carolina's infidelity-and-bloodshed double bill, "La Vida Breve" and "Pagliacci," has those in its favor. But where do the singers and players work? A theater.

This is opera, not a concert. And it's a pale affair. The sets are skimpy. The staging is limp. For all the electricity the principals try to generate individually, there's a limit to what they can do.

More than most operas, "Vida Breve" depends on one person: the soprano playing Salud, a gypsy whose sweetheart drops her to marry another woman.

At Thursday's opening, Olivia Gorra threw herself into the role. Her voice throbbed with anguish in Salud's laments. Her outcries had just enough rawness to sound like spasms of anguish, not mere high notes.

Israel Lozano's clear, sunny voice captured the ardor -- however temporary -- of Salud's sweetheart, Paco. Luis Ledesma's growling, gritty delivery captured her Uncle Sarvaor's craving for vengeance.

In "Pagliacci," tenor Todd Geer -- playing Canio, opera's famous clown -- sang in fresh, ringing tones that tenors with heftier voices often lack. But he didn't have the sheer power to make Canio's climactic rages hit home.

Gorra returned to play Nedda, the straying wife, and threw herself into the music exuberantly. Ledesma also came back, now as the conniving Tonio. His voice opened up with a fullness the earlier role had hardly suggested. Joshua Hopkins brought a fitting youthfulness to the role of Silvio, Nedda's boyfriend.

The singers sometimes communicated to the viewer's eyes as well as ears. In "Vida Breve," Gorra embodied Salud's heavy-heartedness in the droop of her gaze and the sag of her shoulders. In "Pagliacci," Ledesma cut a menacing figure as the stooped but fierce Tonio.

But their surroundings didn't serve them well. In both operas, the set was dominated by mere platforms and steps. In "Vida Breve," a fragment of wall and a couple of towers sat there but created little atmosphere. In "Pagliacci," having almost nothing onstage but the traveling players' wagon in Act 1 and their mini-stage in Act 2 looked paltry.

And the staging by director Chad Calvert hardly had vitality enough to mask the stage's bareness. Confrontations were slow-paced and awkward -- and in neither opera did Calvert help his principals brandish a knife like they meant it. The chorus was planted around the stage with little life in "Vida Breve." The scene with Nedda and her paramour in "Pagliacci" was distant and static rather than fraught with desire.

"Pagliacci," at least, had jugglers, a fire-eater and a stiltwalker to liven it up. The Carolinas Latin Dance Company contributed swirl to the party in "Vide Breve" -- with the Charlotte Symphony, led by James Meena, propelling it. But all that, alas, was only temporary. MUSIC REVIEW

La Vida Breve and Pagliacci
Opera Carolina makes a double bill of the operas by Manuel de Falla and Ruggero Leoncavallo.

DETAILS: 704-372-1000; www.operacarolina.org.