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Tears of a clown 

With An Evening with Pierrot, the St. Cecilia Concert Series showcases the world’s most famous sad sack.

Allison Angelo and Olga Primak as Pierrot evoke nostalgia, comedy and empathy - ADRIA YOUNG
  • Allison Angelo and Olga Primak as Pierrot evoke nostalgia, comedy and empathy
  • Adria Young

Naïve and lovelorn, Pierrot embodies a melancholy we have all known. Floppy white blouse, pale face, black teardrop, Pierrot is a sad clown in every sense. A character from Commedia dell'arte, the Renaissance theatre-style of roleplay and mood, Pierrot longs for the love of the undeserving Columbine, who has run off with Harlequin. His ardour is an instrument of both sympathy and scrutiny.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Pierrot's moonlit despair captured creative imaginations. He became the subject and muse of poets like Verlaine and Hughes, composers like Debussy and Fauré. The St. Cecilia Concert Series, with the Mountain View Festival of Song, presents An Evening with Pierrot at the Lilian Piercey Concert Hall on Saturday.

St. Cecilia's current musician-in-residence, soprano Allison Angelo, accompanied by pianists Charles Foreman and Kathleen van Mourik, reader Larry Bent, with Olga Primak as Pierrot, integrate the arts---music, literature, performance---to represent a composed idea of Pierrot's varying emotions. "It is a visual feast as well as an aural one," says Angelo. Originally from Truro, Angelo studied music and theatre at Dalhousie before a Master's in Opera Performance at the University of Toronto. By being interdisciplinary, the evening promises a very atypical kind of recital. The same cast performed the program in 2010 at the annual Calgary festival to exceptional acclaim. 

"Everybody can relate to the repeated disappointments that Pierrot faces," Angelo says, "He's a very earnest character. What he yearns for are very universal things. Love. Acceptance. So I think when it's done in a comedic way, yet in a sad and nostalgic way, we can always relate to that. The human existence, and that element of humanity, hasn't changed in 100 years." Pierrot is timeless and yet particular interpretations are informed by the contexts of his admirers. Drawn partly to the elaborate mode of Italian theatre, but seeking symbolic and abstract figures, poets and composers were also attracted to the mood Pierrot inspires.

"At the time, the poets were in some ways outcasts of society," says Angelo, "And a lot of them were homosexual at a time when that wasn't acceptable, even in the more liberal society of Paris. So I think that it was easy to identify with Pierrot, the one who never has the acceptance and love that he's looking for. He found a lot of empathy then and does still." Doubly inspired, Debussy and Fauré scored the French poetry, rich with imagery of the moon, to which Angelo has a particular affinity.

"They wrote this incredible song repertoire about Pierrot, nostalgic with comedic elements. It was such a nice variety of emotion they could pull from: funny music, fast music, dark, mysterious and sad. They were of course inspired by the written word, but I think music more so creates an immediate sense of mood, with such exaggerated pathos to pull from. It makes terrific programming for a concert."

Her final installment as resident soprano with St. Cecilia, Angelo anticipates a terrific turnout. "Halifax is such a great audience. They are always ready to go on whatever journey you are taking them on," she says. Because of Pierrot, however, this one is going to be different; sadness has given way to beauty. "The performance is accessible and so interesting. I think they're going to love it."

An Evening with Pierrot, Saturday, May 19 at Lilian Piercey Concert Hall, 6199 Chebucto Road, 7:30pm, $25/$20/$10, Tickets at Bookmark or by reservation at 423-0143

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