Opera Review: Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci

3 Oct

Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana

Plot: Lola and Turridu were to be married, but Turridu was conscripted and spent some years away from the village. Lola meanwhile married Alfio, the carter and the main provider for the village. Turridu has secretly resumed his relationship with Lola, though he has promised to marry Santuzza. While the village attends Easter Sunday mass, Santuzza tells Lucia, Turridu’s mother, that she is pregnant with Turridu’s child and that Turridu continues to sleep with Lola. Santuzza fails to confront Turridu, and his indifference provokes her to curse him. Santuzza discloses Lola and Turridu’s relationship to Alfio, who resolves to revenger his honor.

I was first introduced to Cavalleria rusticana in The Godfather III back in 1990. It was the opera that Michael Corleone’s son Anthony starred in when the family visited Sicily. I fell in love with the score then and I had hoped that one day I would get to see this opera performed live and I finally did tonight courtesy of the ENO. I loved the way the music swelled and filled the cavernous London Coliseum and although it was surtitled in English it didnt take away the essence of the words and melody of this much loved opera.

Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci, ENO

Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci

Plot: Tony, a comic, tells us that what we are about to see is real. The comedians arrive to perform a show and are greeted by an enthusiastic crowd. Nelly, the leading comedienne, fears the jealousy of her husband Kenny, the leading comic. She is revolted by the harrassment of the second comic, Tony. She meets her lover Woody, the stage carpenter. Woody persuades her to leave the theatre, and escape with him after the show that night. Tony spies on Nelly and Woody, and alerts Kenny to their relationship. Kenny rounds upon Nelly furiously. He reflects on how he makes his public laugh while inwardly despairing. An excitd audience arrives for the show and the comedy begins. When Kenny arrives on stage he is unable to separate his life from the play in which he is performing…

How ironic that it’s through my favorite 90’s sitcom, Seinfeld, that I have learned more about Pagliacci. This inventive version offering is due to Lee Hall’s creative genius, who not only brought us Billy Elliot and the recent National Theatre smash hit The Pitmen Painters, he did not only changed the setting from rural Italy but to North England but he also changed the names of the characters where Canio becomes Kenny “Mr Paxo” Evans, Tonio is Tony O’Sullivan and Nedda is now Nelly Scrimshaw. I had so much fun watching this and found it quite engaging.

A real promising new season start for the ENO indeed.

Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci: 4/5

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