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MUSIC REVIEW : Cast Changes in ‘Cav/Pag’

“Cav” got hotter but “Pag” grew cooler when Opera Pacific offered new casting in “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” Sunday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

The main problem was Ruben Dominguez as Leoncavallo’s tragic clown figure in “Pagliacci.”

Dominguez had sung a generalized Radames for Opera Pacific in 1988, but here showed some interesting interpretive ideas, at least at the start. He embodied a kind of world-weariness, a perception of his troubled marriage, an inclination to reveal Canio’s near-brutish attraction to his wife. To stress these concepts, he made use of frayed vocalism, including tremulousness under pressure and uneven shifts in color.

But soon he opted for low-voltage passion. He sluggishly chased the fleeing lover of his wife. He froze from knifing her, waiting to be held back by Beppe (although this may have bad timing on the part of William Livingston). And except for the big outburst, he took “Vesti la giubba” at a quick, rote pace that conductor Anton Coppola apparently tried to resist.

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Perhaps he was carried away, after all, for he interpolated the word “Infamia!” at the end of this, the most famous monologue in opera. But from then on, his interpretation imploded. When he came to the agonized lines in the play-within-the-play, where expressive utterance should predominate, Dominguez appeared content to venture long spun-out lyrical lines.

Lithe and fine-featured, Marquita Lister made a youthful and magnetic Nedda, combining strength with fear and melting vulnerability. She sang with a large, weighty and dark-toned soprano that amply blossomed on top.

Mark Rucker, a winner in the 1986 Opera Company of Philadelphia/Pavarotti competition, was an intense, detailed and sympathetic Tonio, even if his vocal production sometimes succumbed to indefinite pitch. But something is wrong with the portrayal when Tonio spends more time in sobbing laughs than does Canio.

Rucker had also proved a credibly menacing Alfio to Craig Sirianni’s powerful, complicated Turiddu in the earlier “Cavalleria.” Both men had nearly met the intensity of the previously reviewed Santuzza of Celine Imbert on her level. So here verismo passions flared high indeed.

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With a hefty, bright tenor, Sirianni brought imposing presence to the role, etching the virile impulsiveness, cruelty and egotism of the character and almost redeeming it with the blunt heroism with which he went to his death.


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