Composer (Cavalleria Rusticana): Pietro Mascagni
Composer (Pagliacci):Ruggero Leoncavallo
Conductor: Carlo Rizzi
Reviewer: Barbara Michaels
Cav &Pag – as they are affectionately known – are two short operas of just over an hour each, almost always performed in tandem. Described as ‘the perfect pairing’ on innumerable occasions, it is in some respects amazing that they have never lost their ability to pull in the crowds. But is it really so surprising – for this is life as it is, with all the nitty gritty exposed – opera verismo, warts and all.
The protagonists are not seen through rose-coloured spectacles. These are human beings with human failings. Director Elijah Moshinsky has cleverly kept to the traditional 1880s setting for Cavalleria Rusticana, with its glorious Easter Hymn and Intermezzo. In a Sicilian Square with that extraordinary light filtering in over the warm honey-coloured stone, for which credit must go to lighting designer Howard Harrison, the opera opens with Santuzza, the peasant girl whom soldier Turiddu has seduced, confiding to Turiddu’s mother, Mamma Lucia that he has abandoned her and is pursuing another man’s wife – Lola, married to the prosperous carter Alfio. Despite Santuzza’s entreaties, Turiddu refuses to give up Lola. When Santuzza, overcome with distress, tells of their affair Alfie challenges Turiddu to a duel and kills him.
This production gets off to a flying start, with Camilla Roberts pouring her heart out as Santuzza with a soaring soprano that earned her much applause on opening night. Our sympathies are with her, despite the efforts of Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones as Turiddu, whose singing of Siciliana, with its harp accompaniment, is a real pleasure. The rich baritone of the deservedly ever-popular David Kempster is heard as a dignified Alfio, brandishing a silver topped cane to the manner born.
Moving on after a 35 minute interval we come to Pagliacci – meaning clowns, delving deeper into the human psyche and packing the message that we are all subject to human emotion whatever the façade. A group of circus players, led by the clown Canio, and complete with fire-eaters and a man on stilts arrives in a Calabrian village. Canio’s wife Nedda makes fun of him, and of the crippled Tonio (Kempster), who is in love with her, all the while conducting a clandestine affair with Silvio (Gyula Nagy), another clown. Canio, suspecting his wife has a lover, sings the heart-rending tenor aria Vesti la giubba’ and weeps as he dons his costume for the evening’s Pierrot-style performance with Nedda as Columbina and Tonio as Taddeo, whose dangerous references to infidelity bring matters to a head. Canio enters in costume as Pagliacci, denounces Nedda and kills her.
Meeta Raval’s Nedda pulls no punches – this is a lady out for what she can get. Made doubly poignant by the double entendre of on stage performance and real life, our hearts go out to Canio who cuts a pathetic figure indeed, with his clown’s hat askew above the red nose. Hughes Jones projects as a distraught Canio at the end of his tether but does not quite convey the intense pathos that the role demands.
Great to see the magnificent chorus of the WNO put to full use under the baton of Carlo Rizzi. Overall a fitting contribution to the WNO’s 70th anniversary season.
Runs until 11 June2016 | Image: WNO