Midland Opera’s latest production takes Cav and Pag and relocates them to the world of Guys and Dolls. And it works. The scenery is crude, but the director Sarah Helsby Hughes gets around that in the best possible way, filling the stage with a colourful, skilfully-marshalled parade of Little Italy streetlife: wiseguys, nuns, pizza chefs and kindly neighbourhood cops. It’s no mean feat to get an amateur chorus to enter into character this vividly.
And at the centre of these two hot-blooded tales of jealousy and murder, Midlands Opera fields two highly capable casts. In Cavalleria Rusticana, Helsby Hughes herself plays a touchingly vulnerable Santuzza, against Edward Harrisson’s cocksure, bullish Turiddu and Katherine Cooper’s warm-toned Lucia. John Kiefert’s sinister Alfio and Urszula Bock as a vampish Lola were well-matched to their roles, vocally and in appearance.
If the choral singing was a little shaky in the famous Easter Hymn, it definitely went up a good notch or two in I Pagliacci. Right from the start, and Michael Lam (Tonio)’s ringing, black-voiced Prologue, this really did pull you into the drama, with Lam plus Richard Owen (as Canio) and the bright, bell-like soprano of Claudia Wood (Nedda) delivering some of the most compelling singing of the night. Even Peppe (Robert Edward)’s puppet monkey couldn’t quite upstage them.
James Longstaffe conducted urgently, with some stylish string playing. I’d only remind whoever’s doing the lighting that you’re not obliged to use every colour on your desk. And one more thing – in a city that sees as little opera as Birmingham, Midland Opera has a vital role to play. There are so many unstaged operas to choose from. Why pour all this talent and energy into a pair that were performed here by WNO just five months ago?