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BLO’s new challenge: stage ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ at rock venue

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BLO’s new challenge: stage ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ at rock venue

In 2015, director Giselle Ty created a series of immersive theatrical installations at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. Titled “All at Once Upon a Time (or Variations on the Theme of Disappearing),” the project took audience members through three floors of the Gardner-Pingree House for dreamlike performances created specifically for the National Historic Landmark. At first blush, Ty’s Peabody Essex installations seem a world away from the director’s upcoming production of  “Cavalleria Rusticana” from the Boston Lyric Opera.

But in a theater scene still figuring out how to thrive while coming out of a pandemic, Ty has adapted what she’s learned in the past to create a unique telling of composer Pietro Mascagni’s one-act opera at a rock venue.

“I’ve done a lot of site specific work where you have to be flexible with what you can do in a space and how an audience lives in that space,” she told the Boston Herald. “At the Peabody Essex Museum, where the space is so present, not only are there logistical concerns like you can’t screw anything to the walls of these historic houses, but also each space has its own vibration, its own soul. You have to acknowledge truthfully and honestly what the space is. Everything doesn’t fit everywhere.”

Boston Lyric Opera’s Michelle Johnson rehearses a scene from “Cavalleria Rusticana” with Adam Diegel.” (Photo by Liza Voll)

For the BLO production of “Cavalleria Rusticana,” Ty needs to navigate a space diametrically opposed to the history halls of the Peabody Essex. The BLO opens its new season with Oct. 1 and 3 performances of  “Cavalleria Rusticana” at the Leader Bank Pavilion, a concert venue on the Boston Waterfront that hosted Alice Cooper, the Violent Femmes and Megadeth in recent weeks.

The move could make these two of the BLO’s best-attended performances — the Pavilion can hold over 5,000 for rock shows, it is an open-air venue on the breezy waterfront making it safer than an indoor space, and tickets start at $10 (that’s less than the cost of a movie). It also makes mounting the show a logistical challenge.

“If you are used to touring with Lady Gaga or pop stars, the show is set and they have done it 200 times,” Ty said. “We have very little time to tech it. Normally BLO would be in residency for a week with more time to do lighting, more time to do spacing, more time to settle into the space.”

At the Pavilion, the BLO can’t bring in a set. The team has only a few hours to map out the production in the space. One performance is at night, one during the day, so lighting will have to shift dramatically.

The BLO team seems to be rising to the challenge — for instance, lighting designer Molly Tiede has created a 3D-model of the lighting design with cutting edge software. Costume designer Gail Astrid Buckley and wig-makeup designer Ronell Oliveri have been instructed to “go a little wilder than a traditional opera house (production).” Ty is working with choreographer Levi Marsman to bring an emotional depth and excitement to the stage without a lot of clunky set pieces.

“I tend to not love naturalistic or realistic staging anyway,” she said. “I’m not a fan of huge, heavy operatic sets even when it’s not a question of time or money. I like things to move.”

The BLO has a reputation for reinventing spaces: Right before the pandemic, the company reimagined an adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale” at a Harvard gymnasium and transformed an ice skating rink in the North End into a roadshow carnival with midway games and circus performers for “Pagliacci.”

This version of “Cavalleria Rusticana” looks to continue that tradition while playing to its director’s strengths.


For tickets and details, go to blo.org.

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