I Pagliacci and Goyescas

While "play within a play" motifs are fairly common in the theatre, they are a rare occurence at the opera. Ruggiero Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, first performed in Milan in 1892 and now in production at Central City Opera, is such a story, and a famous one at that: It features parallel dynamics between the characters in a play and the lives of the players themselves.

Baritone Grant Youngblood opens the piece with a moving rendition of the renowned prologue. His imposing stature and strong acting talents make a deep impression as the threatening and obsessed Tonio. Tenor Adam Klein, as Canio, the suspicious and controlling husband, delivers an impassioned performance matched by Emily Pulley as Nedda, despite her uneven vocals.

Stage Director David Edwards choices are daring at times and misguided at others. The chorus of white clowns, also used to mirror and witness the proceedings, is clever though overused, while the lack of traditional costuming in the final scenes of the play within a play is confusing to anyone who has not read or seen the opera before, as it destroys the important distinction between the two worlds and muddies the ending.

Photo of Emily Pulley as Rosario and Chad Shelton as Fernando
Fernando (Chad Shelton) dies in
the arms of Rosario (Emily Pulley),
drawn from Goya's painting
El Amor y la Muerte.
Photo: Mark N. Kiryluk
The second half of the double bill, Enrique Granados' Goyesgas, a series of "tableaus" based on the work of painter Francisco Goya y Lucientes, never escapes its conceptual origins. The libretto by Fernando Periquet makes the mistake that every novice writer is told to avoid—telling not showing.

Additionally, whatever parallels might be derived between what Granados and Periquet were trying to say about Goya's inspiration for his paintings, and that of Leoncavallo's comments on life imitating art, are not substantial enough to warrant the use of the same set and chorus. There is a good reason that Goyesgas has not been performed since its debut at the Met in 1916: it contains no dramatic tension, is therefore devoid of a catharsis, and has few memorable musical moments.

While the company is to be commended for taking chances, this pairing is one that didn't work, spoiling an otherwise pleasing performance of I Pagliacci. The two one-acts run in repertory with L'Italiana in Algeri and Gabriel's Daughter through August 10th. 303-292-6700.

Bob Bows


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