Arizona Opera may have moved to Phoenix, but the sets for the company's 41st season opener were designed and built by people right here in the Old Pueblo.
For the double-bill of one-acts, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, Tucson set designer Sally Day created variations on the theme of ancient Roman ruins.
"Pagliacci is set in the ruins of a Roman building," says Day, who also designs sets for two opera productions each year at the UA School of Music. "I designed a large Roman arch, which symbolizes the past. Cavalleria Rusticana is set in an Italian village. I added a massive wall to turn the arch into a church, but the arch still dominates the stage. It's not supposed to be the same place, but there's a symbolic resonance between the two."
Workers on the Arizona Theatre Company technical crew crafted Day's sets together over the summer. The shop usually shuts down during ATC's offseason, but the opera company "hired out the whole shop and did the two shows," Day says. "They built it on 18th Street in Tucson.
"This is a cool thing for the arts community," she adds. "It's great work for a lot of people."
The people who will be working away on the opera stage are big-name singers from out of town. Tenor Allan Glassman, a regular at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, sings the role of the heartbroken clown Canio in Pagliacci, an 1892 tragedy by Ruggero Leoncavallo. Glassman did a star turn in Verdi's Otello at Arizona Opera last season. Soprano Kelly Kaduce plays Nedda, Canio's duplicitous wife, in her first role for the company.
Last staged by Arizona Opera in 2004, Pagliacci tells of the travails of a traveling theater company (the word pagliacci means "players"). In a life-imitates-art motif, the troubles of the fictional characters the actors play onstage mirror the sorrows that the characters suffer in their actual lives.
Cavalleria Rusticana, traditionally paired with Pagliacci, is a brand-new production for Arizona Opera. The short 1890 work by Pietro Mascagni recounts the heartbreak of two pairs of jealous lovers in a Sicilian village. Tenor Joseph Wolverton is Turiddu, a soldier who returns from war to find his love married to another man. Soprano Lori Phillips, recently praised for her "luxurious warmth" in an Opera News review, sings the role of Santuzza, a woman Turiddu educes then scorns.
The performers sing in Italian; English translations are projected in surtitles above the stage. Joel Revzen conducts a live orchestra.
Acclaimed for her direction of Carmen last year, director Kay Walker Castaldo has chosen to move these passionate stories from the late-19th century to the 1930s. That switch didn't pose a problem for set-designer Day.
"The costumes suggest the time period," she says. "Ruins are eternal."