Culture Magazine

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
The best one-two punch in opera returns in a brand-new production.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci

No laughing matter: Marcelo Álvarez is Canio in Pagliacci. Photo by Anne Deniau © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera

Although they were written by two different composers, the one-act operas Cavalleria Rusticana (by Pietro Mascagni) and Pagliacci (by Ruggerio Leoncavallo) go together like bacon and eggs. Known in the trade as "Cav/Pag", these two operas are each bloody tragedies of jealousy and murder in small-town rural Sicily.
Mascagni wrote Cav as an entry in an opera competition in Italy in 1888. Premiering in 1890, the work proved a sensation, kicking off the verismo movement in opera, a trend of realistic stories about ordinary people, sometimes coming to bloody ends. Inspired by his friend Mascagni and a story remembered from his childhood, Leoncavallo wrote Pagliacci two years later. The Met was the first company to put the operas together in 1893, a performance tradition that continues to this day.
In this new production by Sir David McVicar, tenor Marcelo Álvarez sings the leading roles in each opera. In Cavelleria Rusticana ("Rustic Chivalry") he is Turiddu, a boisterous young tough whose torrid affair with another man's wife leads to a brutal knife fight. In Pagliacci ("The Players") he is Canio, the star of a commedia dell'arte troupe who goes on a murderous rampage, killing his wife and her lover in front of a live audience.
This brand-new staging (replacing yet another beloved Franco Zeffirelli production) sets the two operas in Sicily 48 years apart. Cav is set in the traditional village town square circa 1900. The drama of Pag takes place in that town square, now a truck stop. Eva-Marie Westbroek is Santuzza in the first opera. Patricia Racette is the doomed Nedda in the second. Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi conducts.
Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci opens April 14, 2015. A Met Live in HD broadcast is scheduled for April 25.
Recording Recommendations:
Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano cond. Herbert von Karajan, DG 1965
Cavalleria Rusticana:
Turiddu: Carlo Bergonzi
Santuzza: Fiorenza Cossotto
Alfio: Giangiacomo Guelfi
Pagliacci:
Canio: Carlo Bergonzi
Nedda: Joan Carlyle
Tonio: Giuseppe Taddei
These two classic recordings were originally available together on vinyl, and later in a deluxe three-CD box set along with a nice set of opera intermezzi. Now available seperately as "DG Originals", they remain the heavyweight champion recordings of these two very popular operas. Carlo Bergonzi is brilliant in both leading roles, and Karajan leads the La Scala orchestra and chorus in an inspired performance, showing the magic this conductor was capable of in the studio.
Tickets for Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci are available at MetOpera.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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