Opera San Jose opened a twin bill on Saturday, November 12, 2011 at the California Theatre in Downtown San Jose. Pagliacci and La Voix Humaine were on stage, the orchestra was in the pit, and the theatre itself was and is magnificent and memorable.
La Voix Humaine is a one woman performance. (Betty Coffland and Suzan Hanson alternate evenings in this demanding role). Can you imagine one person running the gauntlet of the emotions a woman might feel as she talks on the phone to the lover who has left her for another woman? A fifty minute solo – interspersed with her intense reactions to the unseen, unheard lover at the other end of the line. This was definitely not a stand in the center of the stage and just sing production, “the woman” was all over her living room, a very effective set. At the end, when she got a standing ovation, I couldn’t help but wonder why her lover hadn’t come out to take a bow.
Pagliacci – Well I had a vague idea of the plot and the marvelous soul-searing music it brings to mind “Vesti La Giubba”. The story line is deep and rich. P is a play within a play. In the play, performed by a traveling theatre group led by “Canio”, who has the lead role of Pagliacci in their play, Pagliacci’s “wife”, Columbina, is cheating on him and getting ready to run off with her lover, “Arlecchino”. And the audience chuckles and claps at Pagliacci’s distress. In real life, Canio’s wife Nedda, who also plays his wife in the play, is fearful of Canio’s “dark” jealousy and is about to run off with Silvio, who lives in the village where they have been performing. As they perform, the play’s “audience” gradually realizes that what they are seeing on their stage is not just acting, but real, and getting more and more intense. You could say that life was imitating art, but it was so much more than that – in the playlet, Pagliacci was a character in a play, perhaps to be laughed at. But in the actors “real life”, Canio, who played Pagliacci, was a tragic figure who even aroused empathy.
It doesn’t end well for Nedda and her lover. The stark and sparse sets supported the action but didn’t detract from the singers and the story.
For more information on Pagliacci & La voix humaine and Opera San Jose shows, please visit them online at www.operasj.org