Pagliacci: Mark Calvert as Beppe
As a native of Wichita, it is a real thrill to be back in the Midwest after years of living and singing in Europe. I am among old friends, new friends, and an ensemble of truly gifted world-class artists. This is also my first time performing the role of Beppe (the character who tries in vain – trust me on this – to keep the show going when Canio goes off the deep end and pulls the knife out). And while it may be my first time in this role, the cast is full of artists who have performed this piece a number of times, one of whom is our Canio, Tonio DiPaolo.
The singers who have done this opera before can pass on helpful tips like Tonio did for me today. At the end of Act 1, Beppe runs on to the stage to confront the knife-wielding Canio, who goes berserk after discovering that Nedda is cheating on him. Canio wants to cut Nedda to pieces, and Beppe wants to bring Canio back from the edge so that the show may go on. As Beppe temporarily calms Canio down, he must sing a particularly tricky passage that requires perfect coordination with the Maestro. One misstep and it is too late to regain musical footing.
For this entrance I had envisioned a super hero sprint across the stage, leaping down a few stairs, tackling Canio, and tossing off my tricky phrase all within five seconds. Some things work better in theory. We did it; I came in a beat late, and then realized it was not such a good idea. But you have to try things out, I believe. Tonio turned to me, made a simple and gracious staging suggestion to rectify the situation, and it worked. It is times like these when one appreciates good colleagues and a benevolent rehearsal atmosphere. Thankfully, we have an abundance of both.