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Big voices on the big stage

BLO opens ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ at the Leader Bank Pavilion

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Big voices on the big stage
Soprano Michelle Johnson. PHOTO: LIZA VOLL

Boston Lyric Opera returns to the stage with “Cavalleria Rusticana,” playing Oct. 1 and 3 at the large outdoor Leader Bank Pavilion. The classic tale of love, betrayal and high stakes in the Italian countryside will play out in full drama at the waterfront pavilion. The diverse cast and crew aim to bring deeper, more relatable character to the production.

Baritone Javier Arrey PHOTO: LIZA VOLL

In traditional fashion, the story revolves around a love triangle. A young villager named Turiddu was once engaged to the local beauty Lola. But when he returned from military service, he found she had married another man, Alfio. Turiddu marries Santuzza, but he and Lola conduct an ardent affair that brings fury and sorrow to both their partners. As the details of their affair spread, chaos ensues.

“I love Italian repertoire,” says Michelle Johnson, who plays Santuzza. “I like the realness of the characters. They’re not necessarily kings and queens, they’re your regular people. It’s the tale as old as time, as they say. Humans, we love hard and then there’s always that jealousy and then we always want what we can’t have.”

Javier Arrey, who plays Alfio, says the cast is working hard to break down stereotyping in the characters. Alfio is traditionally played as stern and angry; Arrey has crafted a character who is more sympathetic and wounded. Johnson reveals the tenderness between her Santuzza and Turiddu to break down the unlikely idea that there is solely bitterness in their marriage.

Stage director Giselle Ty, center, in rehearsal with Cavalleria cast. PHOTO: LIZA VOLL

This is Johnson’s debut with Boston Lyric Opera, but she did much of her operatic training in Boston, first at the New England Conservatory and then at the Boston University Opera Institute. She also met her husband in the city. “To be back in Boston is really like a family reunion,” she says. “It holds a special place in my heart.”

“Cavalleria Rusticana” runs only one hour and 10 minutes and is typically performed with an additional one-act play, like “Pagliacci.” Performing it solo allows the creative team to provide more context and connection with the characters. The bold performance also utilizes dance to express the enormous emotions of the story. Dancers Victoria L. Awkward, Michayla Kelly and Marissa Molinar will bring a powerful physicality to the bold vocals of the actors.

“I want the audience to be a mess at the end, as much as we are,” says Johnson. “This is one
of those gut-wrenching stories, and if they’re not crying and snotting by the end, then we didn’t do our jobs.”

arts, Boston Lyric Opera, music, opera
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