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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

music dramas.

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

evening out."

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

important scene."

"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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