Once again, the Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) has made a brilliant virtue of its present homeless state by choosing an unorthodox and roomy site in which they can design a stage that is more an invitation than the old-style elevated barrier.
This stage was the DCR Memorial Steriti Skating Rink located on Commercial Street, just a short walk from North Station.
We took advantage of the Green Line’s public transportation then climbed upstairs to enjoy an illuminated urban experience on Commercial Street as it circles a North End dotted with restaurants.
Since we longed for the full immersive experience, we ignored the restaurants and headed for the advertised food trucks. I grabbed a heap of Indian food, then followed the signs to the back of the skating rink where we positioned ourselves on a picnic bench overlooking the Charles River as it flows towards the locks that lead into Boston Harbor.
As we ate, a trio of young, local athletes performed flips safely out of range of the dining but near enough to introduce us to the Commedia dell’ arte circus experience that awaited us indoors.
Commedia dell’ arte was for Italian audiences as our movies are for us, more a circus of sex, violence, romance and chance than a highbrow disquisition on the meaning of life.
Inside, fair booths invited us to throw darts at balloons, rings at the necks of bottles to win prizes and meet other winners and losers.
I won and lost but mostly stared enviously at a young woman licking an oversize lollipop, stopping only to send her mother a photo of herself, her mother’s ‘baby girl’ — ruining her teeth: every … single … one!
Inside, in the final ring, it was both much better and much, much worse. Music director David Angus coached his orchestra to bring out the very best of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s swelling, lyrical music, a music that captured both the brimming anticipation of new love, as well as the dark foreboding of discovery and violent revenge.
The plot was basically a simple love triangle of a jaded, routine marriage jolted out of its rut by the appearance of a young, lusty lover and a vulnerable, yearning wife.
At first, one’s hopes were all for new love. Nedda, played by Lauren Michelle, and Silvio, her lover, played by Tobias Greenhalgh, both had full, lyrical voices: Nedda’s hauntingly vulnerable, Silvio’s, strong, brave, determined.
If I were the husband Canio’s divorce lawyer, I would have hauled them both into court and condemned them to speak only when questioned. And I would have nixed the lush musical accompaniment.
Unfortunately, the husband, Canio, was a suspicious hot-head, egged on not by lawyerly caution but by the cunning and vengeful “Fool” of the troupe, Tonio, played by Michael Mayes.
Tonio, no fool, but a vengeful would-be lover of a disdainful Nedda uses the poor, out-of-his-head Canio as a tool to revenge himself on Nedda.
“Catch her lover,” whispers Tonio in Canio’s ear, “as we keep an eye on the audience for the most besotted looking young buck.” That will be he!
If only Canio had listened to me instead of to Tonio’s incendiary advice, I would have put him in a courtroom, amplified! Instead, Canio wastes a famously tear-jerking aria, “vesti la giubba,” at once beautiful and pitiable, on, not a jury, but an audience!
Half-dressed, as the clown he’s played forever, with only a slash of grease paint on one cheek, Canio shows a side of himself worn down by a loveless marriage as well as a grinding theater vocation — mostly in front of sensation-seeking backwoods yokels — that has drained him of every spring of hope.
We would have pleaded insanity and won hands down!!!
Instead, Canio unleashes his most murderous self, right onstage in front of a crowd of witnesses! That, in my lawyerly opinion, is real insanity.
In my critical opinion, I thought the double murder onstage was a bit corny — more anti-climax than climax.
Am I jaded by all the violence we’ve seen in our present jaded age? And yet, unexpectedly I was held spellbound.
Before the final scene, during the breathless buildup, a spotlight up-turned on two women acrobats, suspended perilously high, right of stage, on two parallel red curtains.
Their bodies, upheld only by fabric, muscle and skill, turned, slowly and surreally in a seemingly impossible duet as limbs, heads, trunks sought to unite and dis-unite in combinations sometimes sublime, sometimes grotesque.
When they descended, gracefully, balletically, we let out our breaths and looked back at the actions on stage with new understanding: mere, halting mortals opting for flight, in a crowded sky, in an earth-bound moment…
Where will the BLO lead us next?
(Boston Light Opera’s presentation of “Pagliacci” runs through October 6 with performances this Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at the DCR Steriti Memorial Rink, 561 Commercial St., in Boston’s North End. To get on the waiting list for these sold-out shows, contact BLO Audience Services at [email protected] or (617) 702-8979.)