When I was asked by Opera for All whether I would like to go and see an opera, I leapt at the chance. When I was also asked to write a review, I hesitated slightly as I know nothing about opera. Absolutely zilch.
When it was gently pointed out to me that this is Opera for All, and ‘all’ most definitely includes opera virgins like me, I took a deep breath and toddled off to watch Verismo, from Opera on Location, entirely unclear what I would be letting myself in for.
Verismo, consisting of two one-act operas (Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (Clowns, 1892) and Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry, 1890)), begins with Tonio, played by bass-baritone Aidan Edwards, welcoming the audience, confiding in them and creating the sense they are part of the performance.
The venue of Sheffield University’s Drama Studio is perfect for this. The intimacy of the space combined with its no frills decor dissolves any unseen barrier between audience and performers.
And then we begin. I cannot describe beautiful arias or stunning coloraturas because I don’t really know what they are. What I did see was a passionate, engaging performance filled with drama, laughter, love and loss.
The plot is…complicated for a novice like me! We begin by watching a theatrical group preparing for their rehearsal, particularly focusing on their personal relationships and their imperfections while they get ready to perform Cavalleria rusticana.
The cast getting changed on stage created a wonderful sense of naturalism, as one would expect from Verismo, and ensured that the audience saw the cast as normal people.
It then moves to the actual performance, set during World War 2. The themes of jealousy and unrequited love that ran through Pagliacci are replicated again, and the line between the ‘reality’ of the casts’ relationships and the parts they now play blur.
Through all of this, moments of absolute joy like a chorus line of miners and a soprano singing ‘You bastard’ at the top of her lungs keep the opera from feeling like a classic tragic tale and instead provide glorious moments of levity.
The cast is small, just seven players, and while each of them were wonderful to watch, the star of the show for me was Gareth Lloyd in the roles of Canido and Turiddu. A commanding presence on the stage with a voice that captivates, it was impossible to not be drawn to him. His tenor, paired with Fiona Hymns’s soprano, was a delight, and the two of them played off each other perfectly.
The opera being performed in English was perhaps the most important aspect for me. It made the experience more immersive, being able to understand the characters and the narrative without having to have done any homework beforehand.
The goal of Opera on Location is to make opera more accessible to the people of South Yorkshire, and they’ve clearly succeeded with me. I can’t wait to see what the company does next, and while I still know nothing about opera, I know I want to see more.
Verismo’s short three-night run is now over, but you can find out more about Opera on Location here.
Soprano Fiona Hymns and tenor Gareth Lloyd impressed in Verismo, Opera on Location’s new version of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (Ollie Maynard).