Where one would expect the operatic double bill of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci,” Teatro Comunale di Bologna instead opened last night’s double bill with Poulenc’s “La Voix Humaine” and Mascagni’s ever-famous verismo opera, “Cavalleria Rusticana,” appropriately placed with the approaching Easter season.
La Voix Humaine
“Voix Humaine,” set to music from Cocteau’s play of the same name, is described as a monodrama. The sole character of this opera, Lei, was played by soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci (returning to Bologna, the site of her training). The work is for no amateur, as Lei must command the stage alone for 40 minutes as the audience eavesdrop on the woman’s last conversation with her lover, whom she believes is having an affair with another woman.
The stage first appears as a bedroom; two beds with nightstands enclosed by walls with padded cushioned walls, directing our attention to the corner of the room, where the drama will unfold, with Lei dressed in a pink nightgown.
Antonacci begins the cryptic phone conversation in a carefree manner (spectators only ever hear her end of the conversation). As the story unfolds, her fears slowly grow, with the room’s surroundings changing form and mood, the white walls taking well to the colored lighting scheme by Christian Zucaro.
Adding into the story at key moments are actors and dancers, performing in small vignettes as re-enactments to the conversation and what may be running through Lei’s troubled mind.
Switching between what are more expository moments and moments that more heavily feature Poulenc’s melodies, Antonacci’s nuanced approach to the character matched the subtleties of score and libretto.
With the stakes rising, Lei becomes more mad, speaking into a disconnected phone receiver, the bedroom slowly transforming into a padded asylum, with cameos by her doctor and two twin nurses, appearing side by side, in a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
At the height of the madness, the dancer who appears as the vision of her lover is strangled by Lei with the disconnected phone cord, an anguished and impressive ending by Antonacci, whose voice still packs the richness of her formerly mezzo-soprano voice.
At the end of Act 1, the crowd showed obvious enthusiasm to Antonacci’s portrayal in the rare French opera.
Next up was “Cavalleria Rusticana,” appropriately opening on Palm Sunday, all of Bologna carrying the traditional olive branches.
The set by Carmine Maringola, while minimalist, featuring two stuccoed staircases and balcony and was very effective as it glided through the space against the empty black stage with powerful lighting choices.
Carmen Topciu, Romanian mezzo, dressed in a black pencil skirt, created the Santuzza we couldn’t bare to see heartbroken, in this opera’s disastrous love triangle. From “Voi lo sapete” to the very end, her dramatic voice was a perfect match for this opera. Likewise, performing Turiddu was Italian tenor Marco Berti, who is passionately falling for Lola after having wooed Santuzza in an act of revenge. The two’s duet, “Turridu, ah! lo vedi!” was a highlight of the evening, both voices, biting, yet deep, leaped straight through the orchestra.
Alfio, the now husband of Lola who broke off her engagement with Turiddu while away, was played by Albanian baritone, Gezim Myshtenka. Strutting into the scenes with a baritonal machismo, Myshtenka sang with a richness and freedom that rang through the theater, matching the rest of the cast in excellence.
In one of Mascagni’s proudest moments, his ‘Easter Hymn” was given a devotional performance at the front of the stage by the Teatro Comunale chorus, impressing the crowd in one of Verismo operas finest moments.
This successful opening was followed by a brindisi in the theater Foyer Rossini, with spectacular balcony views of the theater’s neighbor, the Basilica of San Giacomo Maggiore.
With some of opera’s finest voices and effective direction by maestro Michele Mariotti, this double bill is not to be missed and runs four more performances through April 18.