Opera in concert can sometimes be a stilted affair, with works of great theatrical dynamism reduced to two dimensions by a stolid lineup of singers planted shoulder-to-shoulder in front of an orchestra.
Not so with Chorus pro Musica, which ended its season on Sunday in Jordan Hall with a classic double serving of operatic naturalism: "Cavalleria Rusticana" by Mascagni and "I Pagliacci" by Leoncavallo. Far from the concert-opera norm, these were engagingly hot-blooded performances, and if some musical details occasionally fell by the wayside, music director Jeffrey Rink and his collected forces succeeded in bringing the elemental passion and fevered expressivity of this music clearly to the fore.
It helped that a stage extension added a few extra feet in front of the orchestra, giving singers room to act out the bursts of emotion and violence that push forward these stories of love and murderous jealousy in the 19th-century Italian countryside.
Among the cast, Michael Hayes did double duty, singing Turiddu in "Cavalleria" and Canio in "Pagliacci" and conveying the unstable, smoldering emotion near the core of each character. His portrayal had a virile strength, though his singing grew somewhat patchy in the highest registers. In "Cavalleria," mezzo-soprano Layna Chianakas was an audience favorite as Santuzza, singing with a strong, cutting voice and projecting real pathos into the character of the betrayed peasant girl. David Murray was a persuasive Alfio, Janice Edwards slightly labored as Lucia, and Jacque Wilson a sweet-sounding but overly preening Lola.
"Pagliacci" featured Jason Stearns as a strong Tonio, Maryann Mootos as a capable Nedda, Joshua Benaim as an ardent Silvio, and Gregg Jacobson as a solid Beppe.
Rink, who will soon be taking the podium of a regional orchestra in Florida, drew mostly taut and flexible playing from the orchestra, and the chorus took well to its collective role as peasants and villagers, sounding robust and earthy.
Unfortunately the afternoon's heat did not come exclusively from the performances. Jordan Hall's air conditioning is broken, and the space was sweltering, despite coolish temperatures outside. Musicians ditched tuxedo jackets, and audience members could be seen fanning themselves to the beat with programs.
According to New England Conservatory, new air conditioning units will not be installed until September. Fear not, says the Boston Early Music Festival, which will soon be taking over the hall for its biennial festival. Plans are afoot to bring in temporary cooling devices for BEMF performances. Otherwise we would be in for a week of ventilation that is, shall we say, historically informed.
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.