By Nino Pantano
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BENSONHURST — The “verismo” (flesh and blood) one-act opera Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni is usually paired with another magnificent work, Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, but not always. I do not think it has ever been presented with Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. In the borough of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Regina Opera scored two home runs!
This concerto transformed Regina Hall into Carnegie Hall. Principal conductor Scott Jackson Wiley led the Regina Orchestra with power and precision. All three movements were played with dazzling technique by pianist Karol Ishizeki. Beethoven’s recurring theme, with its strength and reassurance, was deftly handled by Ishizeki. Whether it be extravagant cadenzas or gentle and soft passages, the combination of precision, passion, virtuosity and heart were all there flowering in abundance; and the audience gave Maestro Wiley, Ishizeki and the Regina Orchestra a well-deserved standing ovation.
After a brief intermission, the opera, conducted by Teresa Cheung, began — a miniature masterpiece of adultery, betrayal and revenge. Santuzza is in love with Turiddu, a former soldier, who has jilted her for his past fiancée Lola, who is now married to Alfio, the village carter.
Soprano Emilie Storrs was a strong Santuzza. Storrs combined voice and pathos. Her heartfelt singing of “Voi Lo Sapete, O Mamma,” in which she tells Turiddu’s mother, Mamma Lucia, that Lola is jealous of their love, was heartfelt. Lola stole Turiddu from Santuzza , leaving her abandoned, excommunicated and disgraced. Santuzza’s duet with Turiddu, “Ah! Lo Vedi, Che Hai Tu Detto,” was sung with great sweep and passion. Her denunciation of Turiddu with “A Te La Mala Pasqua” (A Bad Easter to You) was chilling, as was her cry to the stunned Alfio, “Turiddu Mi Tolse.”
Deryl Godshall was a memorable Turiddu. His opening serenade, “Oh Lola, Ch’ hai Di Latti La Cammisa,” is a test for all tenors with its high tessitura. Once that was successfully done, he relaxed and gradually evolved to white-hot singing in his confrontational duet with Santuzza. His drinking song “Viva Il Vino Spumeggiante,” was exciting, and his farewell to his mother, “Mamma, Quel Vino e Generoso,” was sung with tearful abandon. His tenor is quite resilient, with a steely upper extension suitable for this role. Turiddu’s request to his Mamma Lucia, before his duel with Alfio, that she become like a mother to Santuzza made him sympathetic, no matter how brazen he seemed before.
Riccardo Rosa used his warm baritone as a strong and impressive Alfio. His voice and acting skills truly articulated Alfio’s joy turned to unspeakable rage. Rosa’s splendid manly singing of “Il Cavallo Scalpita” and his raging “Ah! Lo Vedi, Che Hai Tu Detto” was hair raising, as was his “Compare (friend) Turiddu” before the final duel. Rosa is a singing actor who is truly at home on the stage.
Lola, Alfio’s wife and Turiddu’s love, was beautifully sung by Bethany Richards, whose vibrant soprano echoed through the aisle of Regina Hall as she sang “Fior Di Giaggiolo” (O Fairest Flower) with a beguiling smile and a spiteful sluttish countenance.
Mamma Lucia, Turiddu’s mother, was artfully portrayed and beguilingly sung by mezzo-soprano Melissa Kelly. The Regina Chorus sang sublimely.
John Schenkel’s directing was traditional, but I missed the grand religious procession that is standard in the “Regina Coeli.” Having Santuzza sadly watch two dancing young lovers during the Intermezzo was a lovely touch, but the Intermezzo can stand alone very well.
The vibrant and visceral conducting of Teresa Cheung was truly magnificent. In her magical hands, Cavalleria Rusticana came to vivid life. Cheung captured the emotions of humanity caught in a web of passion. The 35 superb musicians of the Regina Orchestra responded beautifully to Cheung. The famed Intermezzo was played with poignant beauty and spirituality. The finale with full chorus and the roar of brass and percussion was the very soul of verismo opera. For further information, see the website www.reginaopera.org.