Sunny Sicily turns blood red when opera comes to Altoona this Saturday.
A romantic triangle and timeless music propel Pietro Mascagni's highly dramatic "Cavalleria Rusticana" (Rustic Chivalry).
Teresa Cheung , the maestra of the Altoona Symphony Orchestra, said Mascagni was the first operatic composer to tap into work-a-day people's lives. She described this opera of love, lust, jealousy and betrayal as "extremely emotional very expressive (and) colorful."
Mascagni's "reality opera" paved the way for Giacomo Puccini's "La Boheme" and Georges Bizet's "Carmen," she said.
"Cavalleria Rusticana" also marks the ASO's first operatic foray, complete with translations projected on a large sheet above the Mishler Theatre stage, two choruses and lead singers who performed the opera under Cheung's baton this past March with the Regina Opera Company in New York.
Due to time and location constraints, this will not be a full-blown production with set backdrops, costumes or stage blocking. But audience members won't have to use much imagination to be transported to a Sicilian village on Easter Sunday in 1890.
If you go
What: Altoona Symphony Orchestra presents "Operatic Masterwork: Cavalleria Rusticana"
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Mishler Theatre, 1208 12th Ave., Altoona
Tickets: $33.50 for adults, $13.50 for students. They can be purchased from the box office, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays.
"The drama of the music carries through the story," Cheung said.
The principal singers "will engage the audience at a whole different level," ASO executive director Pamela Snyder Etters said.
Nicholas Simpson plays the soldier Turiddu, still smitten by his former fiancee Lola, who is now married to the wealthy wine carter Alfio (Ricardo Rosa). Camille Gifford plays Santuzza, Turiddu's new sweetheart, whose jealousy of Lola (Jenny Ribeiro) has tragic consequences. Elizabeth Moulton plays Turiddu's mother, Mamma Lucia.
The State College Choral Society and Juniata College Concert Choir, both under the direction of Russell Shelley, will be positioned in opposite parts of the theater.
The State College chorus will be on risers at the back of the stage, with the 70-member orchestra in the middle and the individual singers at the front of the stage. The 45 Juniata students will sing from the second balcony - "about as far away as you can be and still be in the building," Shelley said.
Both choruses will perform the acclaimed Easter Hymn, with the Juniata choir singing in Latin before joining 74 members from the State College chorus in Italian.
Shelley called the hymn "the jewel of the opera. It's absolutely glorious. Best thing he (Mascagni) ever wrote."
In the Metropolitan Opera online, Thomson Smillie praised Mascagni's "great score, which includes the glorious Easter Hymn and the deeply moving Intermezzo."
Shelley is pleased his Juniata students have the opportunity to work with Cheung, as well as sing operatic music. He said Saturday promises to be "a great evening."
Meanwhile, Etters was working last week on a 5-by-16-foot frame for the yards of white fabric she just happened to have left over from her wedding. The fabric frame will be hoisted over the stage for the projected translations. She said she is delighted that the theater's projectionist not only knows Italian but has a good sense of musical timing.
Unlike many operas, "Cavalleria Rusticana" is short. It will be 75 minutes long, with one intermission.
Etters said she's really excited" about the production.
Maestra Cheung said simply, "Altoona needs to see this."