Opera Ithaca flaunted a raw and striking sold out performance of Pagliacci Saturday night. The site-specific production housed in Ithaca’s very own Circus School remained authentic to the Ithacan aesthetic — small and impactful. The show, directed by Zachary James, tells the story of an ensemble of circus performers trapped in a dramatic love triangle. The company, already embraced and well loved by the Ithaca community, is entering its fourth season. Though Ithaca Opera has finished its final performance of Pagliacci, the company has five remaining shows lined up for their 2017/18 season including The Mystery of the Magic Flute, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, and Carmen.
Composer Bonnie Montgomery is adorable as she quietly jokes with a noticeable southern twang, “It’s nice to perform without a bunch of beer bottles clanking.” It is clear why the company had her introduce the show with a few songs of her own, I wouldn’t want anyone else to guide me through life in small town Arkansas. She does so admirably in the world premiere of this self described folk opera, albeit through an unnecessary lens. The marketing posters boasted an iconic and gray Clinton epically gazing against an American flag backdrop. With Hillary campaigning a few hours away in NYC at the time of the performance, I was prematurely concerned the show would try to be a bit too ambitious for itself. But it turned out to be quite the opposite.
Semele by George Frideric Handel is the tale of the affair between a mortal girl named Semele (Laura McCauley) and the immortal Jupiter (Joseph Michalczyk-Lupa), and what results when Jupiter’s vengeful wife Juno (Hector Gonzales Smith), the goddess of marriage, finds out about it. Based on one of the origin tales of the Greek/Roman gods and goddesses, the story itself is naturally wrought with drama, passion and tragedy. I honestly had no idea of what to expect from Semele, as I have never seen an opera before. Would I be seeing a fantastically mawkish tale? A complete train wreck of emotions as the three lead characters, fantastically selfish and vain, tromp around the stage?
Opera inhabits the larger-than-life world of illusion and fairy-tale; we go expecting sheer fantasias of darkling grandeurs and flights of lovelorn paroxysms. But like Freudian dreamwork, the experience of opera-going may not be to elude reality so much as to enable us to digest the unforetold consequences of a reality that has leached into the mythic shapes of our shadowy under-thoughts.
Ithaca College has chosen two early twentieth century operettas based on fairy-tales for its annual opera production, Pauline Viardot’s Cendrillon and Maurice Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilges. The two productions on the bill, however, could not be more different.