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OPERA REVIEW : A New Santuzza Closes ‘Cav’ Run

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Opera Pacific cast Camellia Johnson as Mamma Lucia in five performances of Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” before letting her have a one-shot outing as Santuzza at the close of the run Sunday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Johnson was singing the role for the first time, and a happy occasion it was.

Nominally a mezzo-soprano, Johnson offered big, even, creamy and richly varied vocalism, full of body and weight and capable of exhibiting arresting dramatic coloration in the lower register, although her voice did not soar above the crowd in the Easter Hymn. Perhaps in time.

Dramatically, Johnson was more problematic. A singer of large size, she emphasized pathos, stoic dignity and brooding, intense presence. Gone was the febrile acting of Celine Imbert, Johnson’s predecessor in the role.

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Unlike Imbert, Johnson (wisely) opted not to ascend the church steps on her knees, or allow herself to be pushed to the ground at the end of her argument with Turiddu. At the worst, her scenes could be static. Still, she was never less than intelligent, credible and wonderfully sympathetic in the role, and this magnitude of voice and talent could compensate much for her basic stand-and-sing approach.

LaVonne Alexander took over as a vocally squally but dramatically urgent Mamma Lucia. Anton Coppola again conducted.


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