Opera review: Pagliacci | Helensvale Cultural Centre | Saturday, 6 May

The persona of the clown occupies a curious duality for many, slapstick mirth juxtaposed with a garishly smeared alter-darkness. A place where laughter and screams co-exist as uneasy bedfellows. In the case of classic Italian opera Pagliacci, humour and darkness intertwine to tell the tale of a traveling troupe of clowns, whose dynamics are played out within an  undercurrent of deceit, betrayal, illicit love and bloody vengeance. Where are the clowns? Send in the clowns..

Tonight’s performance is the second production from the talented collective known as Opera Gold Coast, who previously brought to life another classic Italian Opera, La Traviata. And as with their earlier production, this performance was adapted from its original Italian origins via an intuitive English translation, allowing those newer to the medium to take in the intricacies of the story while still reveling in all the pomp and splendour of traditional opera.

The crowd are enraptured from the moment the lights dim, the intimate 5 piece orchestra to the left of stage providing a subtly captivating soundtrack throughout. The first half of tonight’s performance sets the scene for the final mayhem of act two, as we’re introduced to the clown collective around whom the drama revolves. An early spine-tingling highlight arrives when the chorus of support performers first find voice simultaneously, a rousing crescendo of varying timbres magically melding and drawing warm applause.

Two of tonight’s most captivating performances come from Patrick Oxley, in the role of head clown Canio, and Melanie Smart, who plays the part of troupe performer and Canio’s tortured wife, Nedda. Oxley’s powerful operatic range is underpinned by a broodingly malevolent stage presence, perfectly capturing the darkly tortured persona of Canio, also known as the ‘master clown’ Pagliacci. His jealousy and rage at Nedda’s secret infidelities with Silvio, played with a suave aplomb by Rob Partridge, is the dramatic axis around which this story hinges.

And Nedda is fabulously channeled by Melanie Smart, whose creative vision was the driving force in bringing tonights performance to life. Her vocal range is truly something to behold. James Park, in the role of the slapstick dandy Beppe and David McNeven, who plays the spitefully pitiful Tonio with skill and humour, also deliver memorable support performances.

After a brief interval, act 2 commences with Canio, his back to the audience, applying his clown face makeup in preparation for the troupes upcoming performance, before turning to reveal himself smeared in vengeful strains of white and red. And if the bleedingly obvious had yet to hit you between the eyes, it’s about now that you realise that things aren’t going to end happily. The end game arrives with brutal finality asCanio’s vitriolic rage boils over into the fractured troupe’s performance, their audience gasping in horror as his passionate final confrontation with Nedda spills truth and blood, that of his once-love Nedda and her no longer secret lover, Silvio. And with the final powerful words “I am vengeance” emanating from the master clown’s crimsonly smeared lips, the ultimate tragedy comes to pass.

As the cast take their final bows for the evening, the crowd erupt in sustained rapturous applause. For both opera traditionalists and those new to this art form, this powerful and moving reinterpretation serves as a triumph. We can only hope that once the dust settles, Opera Gold Coast are suitably inspired to deliver us another dose of intimate, re imagined opera again in the not too distant future.

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