Corrections or additions?
This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the October 20,
2004 issue of
U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Double Feature at Boheme
Say "bread" and the word "butter" comes to mind. "Hot" evokes "cold;"
"chair," "table;" "up," "down." The operatic equivalent is "Cavalleria
Rusticana" and "Pagliacci." The two Italian operas are so often
performed in tandem that the combination has developed a nickname,
"Cav and Pag."
Trenton’s Boheme Opera puts on the "Cav and Pag" double bill in the
War Memorial Friday, October 22, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, October 24, at
3 p.m. Two of the leading singers play in both operas: Edward Calcano
is Turiddu in "Cav" and Canio in "Pag," and Daniel Sutin sings Alfio
in "Cav" and Tonio in "Pag." Others in "Cav" are Tamara Haskin,
Lori-Kaye Miller, and Marybeth Hazel. The cast for "Pag" includes
Coral Owdom, Robert Kendall Garner, and John Pickle. Joseph Pucciatti
conducts. Reegan McKenzie, who directed "Lucia di Lamermoor" and
"Carmen" for Boheme, returns to create the double bill.
Other events scheduled by Boheme Opera future are a concert featuring
Metropolitan Opera baritone Daniel Sutin and others on December 4; and
a program of Mozart arias by young artists on January 22. About to
open its 16th season, Boheme Opera is exceptional among musical
organizations for its loyal audience and its fiscal stability. It
takes its name from the Boheme Club organized by Trenton educator
Joseph Pucciatti and his pianist wife, Sandra Milstein-Pucciatti. In
1989 they put on a "Pagliacci" in the parking lot of St. Joachim’s
Roman Catholic Church in Trenton.
Both operas are the most famous works of their composers. Pietro
Mascagni’s "Cavalleria Rusticana" made him instantly famous when it
debuted in 1890; he was 27. Two years later "Pagliacci" catapulted
Ruggero Leoncavallo, 35, to instant importance. Both are the only
operas for which their composers are known today. The two works
introduced "verismo," into opera. The realistic substance of "verismo"
was a foil to the grandeur, history, and myth of Richard Wagner’s
Interviewed by telephone from her Bergen County home, director
McKenzie makes a case for the "Cav-Pag" pairing. "People are used to
seeing the two together," she says. "The composers were
contemporaries, and the two operas together have perfect timing for an
The two works are variations on a theme, McKenzie says. "Both are
based on jealousy, and what it can drive a person to do. Somebody ends
up dying in both, and the death is brought about by a third person.
There are religious elements in both, though there are more in Cav
than in Pag. Both feature Catholic festivals."
In "Cavalleria Rusticana" Turiddu seduces Santuzza and then deserts
her to pursue his former sweetheart, Lola. Unable to regain Turiddu’s
affection, Santuzza tells Lola’s husband, Alfio, about his wife’s
affair with Turiddu. Alfio swears vengeance and, in a duel on Easter
morning, kills Turiddu.
In "Pagliacci" members of a traveling circus troupe are about to
perform in a Calabrian village, which is celebrating the Feast of the
Assumption. Canio, the leader of the troupe, announces that anyone who
seduces his wife, Nedda, had better beware. Nedda repulses the
advances of Tonio, a clown. Tonio overhears the plans of Nedda and her
lover, Silvio, a villager, to run away and informs Canio. During the
performance, which parallels the real-life situation, Canio is
tormented and slips out of his role (Pagliacco) to attack Nedda
(Columbine). Nedda runs from the stage. Silvio attempts to help her.
Canio kills both of them. The Italian word "pagliacco" refers to a
forerunner of present-day clowns; the plural is "pagliacci."
Putting "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci" on the same bill makes
for easy casting, McKenzie says: "Turridu [in "Cav"] and Canio [in
"Pag"], the tenors, are the same voice type. Alfio ["Cav"] and Tonio
["Pag"], the baritones, are also the same." Casting a single soprano
for roles in both operas, however, is not possible, McKenzie says.
"The sopranos cannot be the same. Santuzza ["Cav"] is more dramatic.
Nedda ["Pag"] is higher.
McKenzie’s family – the family name is Delavan – has been immersed in
music. Her Texan parents studied at Westminster Choir College of Rider
University. Their son Mark, born during their Westminster studies, is
on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera Company. (U.S. 1, November 20,
2002) After an appointment at Grand Canyon College in Phoenix,
Arizona, Father Delavan, who died in 1995, became the head of the
Opera Department at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Mother
Delavan, whose maiden name is McKenzie, was also a faculty member at
Oral Roberts. Now 70, she retired about 10 years ago, and maintains a
vocal studio in Rochelle Park, Bergen County, as does her daughter
"My mom takes over my voice and drama studio when I’m out directing,"
says Reegan. "It’s good for my high school age students to get a taste
of a university professor."
Before turning to directing McKenzie had a full vocal career. She sang
the title roles in "Tosca," "Madama Butterfly," and "Luisa Miller,"
among other works. She toured with San Francisco Opera Center’s
Western Opera, and has appeared on opera stages throughout the
McKenzie used the family name until she reached her 30s. In 1993, on
the advice of her New York City voice instructor Joanna Levey,
McKenzie adopted the name change. "She said that it saved me years of
therapy," McKenzie tells. "It was very good advice. It set me free."
McKenzie is open about the family baggage that she believed was
limiting her career. "My Dad was in the business," she says. "My
brother and I look alike. He was unhappy; he was struggling with his
life and it seeped over into his work. Directors didn’t want to deal
with another Delavan because Mark was so difficult. When I walked into
an audition, I wouldn’t have gotten the role if I sang like a goddess.
I got 11 roles after the name change."
Today, McKenzie attributes her directing career to her brother’s
encouragement. "He’s the reason I’m out there directing," she says.
"He told me, ‘You should direct. You have such vision, and you’re so
good with singers.’"
Delavan has eagerly accepted private directorial advice from his
sister. McKenzie notes several telling examples of her prowess. "When
he was doing Falstaff and everybody was getting to know him, he would
bring me in to watch him. I would say, ‘This move didn’t really work.’
Or I’d say, ‘Your head needs to be picked up here.’ Sometimes there’s
just one little move that will make it look better."
McKenzie advised Delavan about his appearance on stage as the villain
in Giacomo Puccini’s "Tosca." "I told him that it would be more
dramatic to turn to the audience at the entrance, so they can see how
angry Scarpio is. When he did his Met debut in Aida [as Amonasro, king
of Ethiopia] I advised him to put his hand on Aida’s shoulder and
caress her chin so they would look more like father and daughter."
McKenzie cites an unspoken actors’ entitlement to go beyond a
director’s prescriptions. "From their feet to their head they can move
as they see fit," she says. "You have the right to interpret as an
actor, for instance to show your profile or your full face. But you
can’t move laterally, east or west, just because you feel like it."
"Oral Roberts is where I cut my teeth directing," McKenzie says. A
theater major and music minor, she estimates she directed about 12
shows as an undergraduate. "I was learning as I was going," she says.
"I know about lights and wigs and props. That’s why I wanted wet hair
for Lucia," [Lucia di Lamermoor in the Donizetti opera.] Maybe it
wasn’t visible in the last row, but it helped."
Although singers tend toward reticence about their age, McKenzie has
no qualms about revealing that she is 43. "For a director, it gives
more clout if you’re older," she says. Then she muses about age and
singing. "Good basses don’t get really good until they’re 35. Tenors
have a last puberty in their 30s. There’s a general desire for young
performers. I’m just as guilty about wanting to go with lovely,
vivacious singers. But it’s opera. You can’t have a 20-year old
singing Canio [in "Pagliacci"]; it would kill him."
As a vocal coach, with an eye to directing, McKenzie focuses in her
studio on the aspects of singing that help a director convey the
story. "If you’re in the back row, you can’t see the details. But
changes in the color of the voice that make it more angry or sexier go
to the back of the house."
McKenzie considers being a singer an advantage for a director. "I
love," she stresses the word, "wonderful voices. I don’t get freaked
out if somebody’s better than me."
"I know what singers are capable of," says this director with
experience on both sides of the footlight. "I know what’s hard. I know
the places where you have to watch the conductor. I learned that from
my father. I’m not going to put singers in a difficult place for an
"Singers no longer just stand and sing," says Boheme’s "Cav and Pag"
director. "I give them a lot to do. Singers today are capable of so
much. I trust them maybe more than a straight theater person would
– Elaine Strauss
Boheme Opera: Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, Friday,
October 22, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, October 24, at 3 p.m. $20 to $55.
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