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OPERA REVIEW : New Santuzza Closes ‘Cavalleria’

After five performances as Mamma Lucia in Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana,” Camellia Johnson sang Santuzza for the close of Opera Pacific’s run Sunday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Johnson was singing the role for the first time. 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 her predecessor in the role, and, unlike her, 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.

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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 a basic stand-and-sing approach.

LaVonne Alexander took over as a vocally squally but dramatically urgent Mamma Lucia.


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