Cavalliera Rusticana and Pagliacci

Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo
Sony Music Classical
Salzburg Opera House
Released

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Cavalliera Rusticana and Pagliacci

Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalliera Rusticana premièred in Rome in 1890. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci premièred in Milan in 1892. These two realistic one-act working-class crimes passionels became the most famous double-act in the operatic repertoire in 1893.

Cav & Pag, as they are affectionately known, have remained together ever since, offering audiences passion, betrayal and murder twice over. The emotions are big and powerful.

Philipp Stolzl’s production, conducted by Christian Thieleman, which was seen in Salzburg and Dresden in 2015, is notable for his German expressionistic designs. The stage and auditorium are unusually wide. There are six separate rectangular mini-stages on two levels, allowing for different locations and parallel actions. The effect is striking.

The sets and the singers are all in black, white and grey. The faces are whitened. The walls and costumes have stripes. The cast look like ink drawings, cartoon characters. Jonas Kaufmann plays the leading role in both operas.

Pietro Mascagni was 21 when he wrote Cavalliera Rusticana (Rural Honour). The opera, a full-blooded, Sicilian melodrama, is based on a novel and play by Giovanni Verga. Eleonora Duse scored a big success. The libretto is by Giovanni Targioni-Tozetti and Guido Menasci. Turiddu (Kaufmann) is having an affair with Lola, his former lover, who is now married to Alfio. Santuzza, Turiddu’s wife (Liudmyla Monastyrska), distraught, tells Alfio what is going on. Ambrogio Maestri’s Alfio is a bulky, menacing Mafiaso gangster.

Monastyrska has some powerful arias and some impassioned duets with Kaufmann when she is begging him to stay with her and give up Lola. A high spot everybody remembers in Cavalliera Rusticana is the "Intermezzo" with its beautiful melody.

Ruggero Leoncavallo based his libretto for Pagliacci on a crime passionel his magistrate father had heard in his courtroom. Canio (Jonas Kaufmann) warns his wife Nedda (Maria Agresta) that if he ever finds she is unfaithful he will kill her. They are members of a commedia dell’arte troupe. Canio plays Pagliacci to Nedda’s Columbine. The roles they play on-stage and the people they are in real life become indivisible during a public performance which ends with two dead.

Tonio (Dimitri Platanias), a hunchback, a member if the company, loves her but she loathes and despises him; his bestiality disgusts her. It is difficult to understand what she sees in Silvio (Alessio Arduini). His large spectacles make him look such a nerd. But when Arduini takes off his shirt, his naked torso seems to belong to quite a different character. Nedda would have been better off eloping with Tinsel Kazembe’s Beppe, a natural for Harlequin.

The staging is designed so that audiences can see what is happening on- and off-stage at the same time. Canio has a delayed entrance which allows the audience to see Canio in his dressing-room putting on his Pagliacci make-up, which adds to the tension as we wait for him to do what he is going to do.

Audiences will want to see Cav & Pag not only for Jonas Kaufmann’s fine performances and the music and the singing but also for Philipp Stolzl’s expressionistic designs and production.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch