Sadly the season of Operas from the Metropolitan Opera for 2014-15 had its final showing at the Dendy Portside cinema. Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci fondly known as Cav/Pav, was the last. It may be repeated in the winter encore series, so watch the Dendy site for date.
Cav. began its life as a successful play. Mascagni wrote a musical score for the play, entered a competition for a 1 act opera in 1888 and won first prize. It was first performed in Rome in 1890 and was an instant hit. It spread around the world and by the time of Mascagni's death in 1945, it had been performed over 14,000 times.
It broke away from the tradition of using mythical creatures and Gods for the storyline, using instead ordinary people with ordinary problems. It is called verismo and the singers are expected to consecrate on a more passionate technique away from the bell canto style.
Cav. was the first opera to earn the title of verismo. It is punishing on the voice and in the early days before later singers developed newer techniques of voice production, many careers were shortened when they developed vocal problems.
The music for this genre is sprinkled with melodies and harmonies that audiences crave. Flavio Luisi has been the principal conductor at the Met since 2005 and heightens the drama with energetic skill. The Intermezzo from this opera is one of the most loved and often played pieces of music today. Jealousy, revenge and murder are still commonplace today, so the melodrama isn't out of date.
Both Santuzza [Eva-Maria Westbroek] in Cav. and Nedda [Patricia Racatte] in Pag. are 'guilty' of adultery. Santuzza is completely isolated from the village community and Nedda is murdered in a drunken rage by her husband. The attitudes of the present may have changed, but the operas still work on an emotional level.
Time is 1900 in a village in southern Italy. No sunshine and for the most part the cast is dressed in black. The mood is set for rejection of Santuzza who sits alone on the side of the stage when she isn't the centre of attention. A central rotating stage is surrounded by chairs, representing the involvement of the whole village in the affairs of Santuzza. She was seduced by Turiddu [Marcelo Alvarez] and falls in love with him. He loves Lola who is married to another, who now wants to kill him after Santuzza tells him of the goings on. It's opera and somebody has to die, in this case with knives. This is set in Sicily and it is 1900.This is melodrama at its best, love triangles and murder in both operas.
Pag. Opens joyfully which is a relief from the murder and mayhem in Cav. But not for long. Canino [Marcelo Alvarez, who bravely takes on both tenor roles] threatens to kill his wife Nedda if she is unfaithful, finds out she is and kills both her and her lover. The setting is 1940 and it is also set in sunny Sicily. From slap stick to horrible death which takes place in a play within a play, about an unfaithful wife that becomes a reality.
Leoncavallo sat down and wrote Pav. After seeing Cav. It was first performed in 1892 to great acclaim. It contains one of the most loved tenor arias of all time 'Vesti la giubba'
'Laugh, clown At your broken love!
Laugh at the grief that poison's your heart'