By Nino Pantano
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On the afternoon of Sunday, March 9, Regina Opera, in its 44th season, presented Ruggiero Leoncavallo's (1858-1919) short masterpiece, “I Pagliacci.” This opera was based on a true case in Calabria, Italy, presided over by the composer's father, a local magistrate.
Regina Opera, now performing at at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Bay Ridge, had a crowd of more than 300 to see an opera that tells the true story of the brokenhearted clown who must go on with the show and make people laugh even though his heart is breaking. There is always the vision of the most famous Canio, of them all, Enrico Caruso (1873-1921), who sang “Pagliacci” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1915, to guide and inspire.
Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley conducted the 35 musicians with thrilling results. The beauty of the prelude and interlude was especially moving, the entire performance was on the mark and the impact of the finale was earth-shattering.
Linda Lehr's brilliant direction assured us that this "play within a play,” with Nedda as "Columbina" making Canio a laughable cuckhold, was full of irony, thrills and excitement!
The Regina cast was headed by Paolo Buffagni, a tenor who was born and raised in Modena, hometown of Luciano Pavarotti. Buffagni's voice has both a cutting edge and lyrical sweetness. His singing of "Un Grande Spettacolo" revealed a very pleasing sound, and "Un Tal Gioco, Credetemi" revealed his darker side and a dramatic quality. His famed aria "Vesti La Giubba" was sung with pathos and genuine heartbreak, without forcing the tone. Buffagni aptly demonstrated a tenor with an upper register set to go! He made Canio's loss of all reason become especially poignant in his "No Pagliaccio Non Son," where the clown is gone and the man emerges.
Nedda, Canio's defiant and unfaithful wife, was brilliantly sung and played by soprano Christina Rohm. Her singing of the bird song ("Stridano Lassu") where she longs to be free as a bird, was done with superb fioritura, coloratura embellishments and a defiance that resulted in thrilling and powerful singing. Rohm's "play within a play" attempts at normalcy were bone chilling and her confrontations with the unhinged Canio were frightening. Rohm clearly showed her contempt for the loathsome Tonio and her indifference to Canio. Nedda fought for her freedom and the right to love but the price she paid was death.
Tonio, the deformed clown, was portrayed and sung chillingly by Ricardo Rosa, who opened the show with a magnificently sung “Prologue”. He nailed down the final "Andiam, Incominciate" with a resounding B flat that went straight to the heavens. His beautiful caressing baritone took on heroic mettle in this magical performance. Rosa's malevolent, lustful advances made him a loathsome villain.
Silvio, portrayed by Scott Lefurgy, Nedda's lover, revealed a plangent pleasing baritone and he sang ardently in their love duet. And why not? Christina Rohm is his real life wife.
Beppe, the Commedia dell arte clown "Arlecchino," portrayed by Gregory Couba, was most entertaining and his tenor serenade "O Columbina" was enchantingly sung.
The chorus sang lustily, and the bell song, "Din-Don," was a joy to hear. The subtle lighting and its varied effects were by Tyler Learned. The sets were eye catching, and Canio's entrance in Scene 2 in a ghostly white clown costume was haunting. The circus banner was striking. The great Arturo Toscanini, who conducted the world premiere, would have been pleased to see such a gripping performance here in Brooklyn.