Playing in rep at London’s Little Opera House, Kings Head, until May 2011
What is it with clowns? Whilst pirates for example enjoy an undeserved romantic appeal, clowns apparently scare the bejesus out of us, which would explain their frequent use in horror films. We thought this was a recent development, however a trip to London’s Little Opera House, to see Operaupclose’s production of Leoncavello’s Pagliacci suggests clown fear goes way back – even more chillingly Leoncavallo claimed to have witnessed the events which he writes about in the opera.
As we have come to expect, the staging by Operaupclose is ingenious – it has to be in this small space. We are immediately drawn in to the action, courtesy of some hilarious vignettes involving singers planted in the audience, to get us ready for the second half when we will become the villagers witnessing the world’s most dysfunctional travelling Commedia Dell’Arte Troupe.
The action starts with Canio sitting with his back to us in his tiny dressing room, inset from the already tiny King’s Head stage. Paul Featherstone deserves special praise for his compelling portrayal of the narcissistic Canio, who is just a little too well-dressed, and a little too theatrical, compared with the jaded players around him, including his wife. He is completely convincing as the deluded bully who thinks he is the victim, a true artist surrounded by fools. Although this production has the usual operatic themes of jealousy, passion and revenge, there is plenty of humour too, and all this lends poignancy to the darker events to come.
The accompaniment of piano, clarinet and cello was all that we needed to bring the music to life, and the singing was all the more powerful for being in a small venue, with a modern libretto by Anna Gregory which we could both understand and empathise with.