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Monday, January 18, 2016

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci

The Met revives the bloody verismo double bill.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Trucking hostile: Marcélo Álvarez in last year's Pagiiacci.
Photo by Cory Weaver © 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. This year, Known in the trade as "Cav/Pag", these two operas are each bloody tragedies of jealousy and murder in small-town rural Sicily.

Last year's opening run of this new production (by Sir David McVicar) of Cav/Pag featured tenor Marcelo Álvarez singing the leading tenor role in both operas. This year's first revival will star tenor Yonghoon Lee as Turiddu in Cavelleria and veteran Roberto Alagna as Canio in Pagliacci. This production sets the two operas in the same Sicilian town square, with the darkness of the first story evolving into the modernization and tomfoolery of the second.

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 on stage in tandem in 1893, a performance tradition that continues to this day.

Each of these operas is a study in the destructive effect of jealousy. In Cavelleria Rusticana, the angry, abandoned Santuzza (the role will be split between Violeta Urmana and Liudmyla Monastyrska) tells the carter Alfio of her ex-lover Turridu's dalliance with Alfio's wife. Turiddu challenges Alfio to a knife fight and is slain in the final scene. Pagliacci blurs the line between comedy and melodrama as Canio, the head of a touring troupe goes slowly mad and eventually murders his wife in front of a paying audience. Its signature moment: the searing tenor aria "Vestia la giubba" with its heart-rending "laughing sob."

Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci returns to the Metropolitan Opera on Jan. 21, 2016.

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

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 separately as "DG Originals", they remain the heavyweight champion recordings of these two very popular operas. Carlo Bergonzi is brilliant in both leading roles. 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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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.