Utah Opera’s ambitious 40th anniversary season continues with a double-bill production of Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” and Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” showing March 10, 12, 14, 16 at 7:30 p.m. and March 18 at 2 p.m. at the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre. Tickets are priced from $15-$105 and are available at www.utahopera.org or by calling (801) 533-6683.
Leoncavallo’s first opera “Pagliacci” tells the story of a traveling troupe of clowns and a wife’s infidelity. “It’s about passion with these huge soaring melodies,” says director Tara Faircloth. The lead clown Canio was Utah Opera founder Glade Peterson’s signature role.
Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” shares the comedic misadventures of a greedy family trying to collect the inheritance of their recently passed family member. “We get to break [the audience’s] hearts in the first opera,” says Marina Costa-Jackson, who plays the roles of Nedda and Lauretta. “Then, we heal with this awesome comedy.”
Artistic Director Christopher McBeth has a reputation for inspiring authentic performance through his belief “when you make a mistake, you’re falling forward.” The pressure of perfection is lifted from artist’s shoulders. “You feel free to give 100 percent. It’s true artistic freedom,” says Costa-Jackson of Utah Opera.
Utah Opera strives for originality in all aspects of performance. “Pagliacci” is set in 1870, “Gianni Schicchi” in 1299, but both shows will be based in the late 1930s. “I’m attracted to that time period — it’s modern, but has enough distance from ourselves,” says Faircloth. When asked if she struggled to find individuality in such classic operas, she said no. “The singers are all different, the conductor is different. I have my viewpoint, and I like to make magic with what’s in the room.”
McBeth enjoys bringing talent from all over the world to Utah. “There’s a certain uniqueness in opera of always trying to create some kind of magical alchemy … that’s greater than the sum of its parts.” While a hometown basketball team you know and love is wonderful, he comments that introducing the Salt Lake community to new artists is even better.
The cast and crew were quick to speak of the importance of opera in youth’s lives, particularly these two performances.
“For students who are learning about themselves, you need a safe space within which to see a mirror of either someone you know or of yourself,” says Scott Piper, who plays Canio.
Costa-Jackson speaks of the humanity of expression: “Through generations, people have learned through story-telling. [The arts] connect us all to our own humanity through witnessing stories and relating [to them].”
“We create false environments for ourselves with social media,” says Maestro Timothy Myers. “In reality, that’s not what life is about. There’s something about shared experiences with your community that’s so important.”
“Pagliacci” and “Gianni Schicchi” is an unlikely pairing — directors typically couple “Pagliacci” with Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana,” both shows known for being downers. “I am so nuts about this pairing [“Pagliacci” and “Gianni Schicchi.”] I think the audience will get the arc of everything good about opera in one night — the drama [and] the comedy,” says Costa-Jackson.
Utah Opera’s “Pagliacci” and “Gianni Schicchi” double-bill promises to be a wild evening for opera novices and masters alike.