'I Pagliacci' dinner-theater engages audience

In the story, art imitates life on stage.
Love, betrayal and murder are all part of the story of & quot;I Pagliacci, & quot; the debut presentation by Opera Western Reserve, the performance arm of Youngstown Opera Guild.
The initial production Friday night at Stambaugh Auditorium was a wise choice. The two-act opera is well known. The music is lyrical, melodic and memorable, and the performers executed the vocal demands as well as the action on stage with precision, grace and emotion.
Composer Ruggiero Leoncavallo based his story on a true event. His father was a judge in Italy in the case of an actor who killed his actress wife for her infidelity. The setting is in Calabria, Italy, on the Feast of the Assumption (Aug. 15).
After attending services, the townspeople will see a theatrical production. They do not realize that art will imitate life on the stage.
In the first act, as Canio, leader of the traveling theatrical troupe, sings the aria & quot;Un tal gioco, & quot; he explains that the infidelity in the play is for comedy, but in real life the same actions would result in physical harm against his wife's lover.
The conflict begins when he does find out that his wife, Nedda, has been unfaithful. Soprano Misook Yun, as Nedda, takes full advantage of the wonderful acoustics of the hall. Her voice resonates as she sings of her unhappy life with Canio, rebuffs the advances of Tonio, the hunchback in the troupe, and professes her love to Silvio.
As Canio, Christian Sebek not only has the body type connected with this role, but the vocal power to back it up.
In the opera's signature aria, & quot;Vesti la giubba, & quot; Sebek, as the sad clown, realizes that the show must go on even though his heart is breaking. He portrays Canio's emotions with a fine balance neither being maudlin nor cartoonish.
Brian Keith Johnson portrays Tonio with pathos for his unattractiveness and with a mastery of the vocal passages.
Dramatic finish
After Canio kills his wife and her lover, Tonio announces & quot;la comedia e finita & quot; ("the comedy is ended"). The audience, lost in the music and story, pauses momentarily as if waiting for the performance to continue.
The 25-piece orchestra led by Susan Davenny Wyner enhanced and emphasized the beauty of the score. Davenny Wyner instinctively knew when to allow the vocalists their freedom to express themselves within the music.
The scene design was more elaborate than the previous year's production in the ballroom.
Youngstown Opera Guild once again offered a pre-opera dinner in the Stambaugh Ballroom. The meal added a nice touch of a night on the town.

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