Fathom Events' "Cav/Pag": A Fine "Finita"

Marcelo Alvarez in "Pagliacci" and "Cavellaria Rusticana"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

The Metropolitan Opera's last HD broadcast of the current season is that of the traditional combination of Pietro Mascagni's “Cavalleria Rusticana” (1890) and Ruggero Leoncavallo's “Pagliacci” (1892), familiarly known as “Cav/Pag”. Though verismo operas aren't as much in favor these days as they used to be, what with their unsavory plots involving lower class heroes, fast-paced naturalism, and lack of the currently popular coloratura singing, this is a welcome sign of the Met's recent attempts at diverse repertoire. Not seen at the opera house for the past six seasons, this duo is being presented in a brand new production, replacing that of the 1970 Franco Zefferelli era. Both of the operas in this combo utilize the same Sicilian setting, (designed by Rae Smith of “War Horse” fame), the former set in the early 1900's, the latter about fifty years later (despite being set not in Sicily but in Calabria in the libretto) and the same lead, tenor Marcelo Àlvarez, as Turiddu in the former and Canio in the latter (not an unprecedented event), as well as George Gagnidze as the baritone in each opera. Both are under the Direction of David McVicar and the baton of Conductor Fabio Luisi. There the similarities pretty much end in this offering.

Except for their common themes of adultery and murder, that is. Cavalleria Rusticana”, or “Rustic Chivalry”, based on a very short story by the same name, centers around these sordid topics, on Easter Sunday yet. It fulfills the naked “truth” requirement inherent in the verismo category, as it deals with the continuation of the traditions of the past, with much emphasis on religious faith and an ancient, even primitive, code of honor. Turiddu sings of his love for Lola (mezzo Ginger Costa-Jackson), wife of Alfio (Gagnidze), having seduced and abandoned Santuzza (soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek) previously. After speaking with Turiddu's Mamma Lucia (mezzo Jane Bunnell), Santuzza, in a famous scene (reproduced endlessly on Sicilian donkey carts even today) begs Turiddu not to enter the church for Easter Mass, as Alfio and Lola had already entered. He obstinately enters despite her pleas. There follows the famous Intermezzo, as usual beautifully sung by the Metropolitan Opera Chorus (under the direction of Donald Palumbo). After the services, Turiddu and Alfio have words and head offstage to duel with knives. Word comes back to Mamma Lucia that her son has been killed in the duel. The singing was glorious, especially by the Met Chorus, but the staging was silly and senseless, with a too-frequent revolving set distracting from the plot.

Pagliacci or “The Players” finds the same town, now half a century later and lit by electricity, still the site of the same sordid subjects of adultery and murder. This short work looks to the future to suggest how we might see similar issues today. It begins with the famed prologue by Canio, Vesti la guibba, in which he wears clown makeup and attests that the story we're about to see is true and that performers too have lives with consequences. When it's suggested that his wife Nedda (Patricia Racette) has been unfaithful to him with Tonio (Gagnidze again), Canio warns that will not be tolerated. Ironically, she has indeed been less than faithful, but with another suitor, Silvio (Lucas Meacham). Canio almost catches him but he escapes, leaving Canio to suspect it was Tonio. The performance later that same day so parallels the real triangle (or, rather, quadrangle) that Canio becomes enraged, mistaking the unreality of the play for reality, stabbing Nedda and, when he tries to intervene, Silvio. Tonio then announces to the audience that ”la commedia è finita!”

The singing by Àlvarez, Westbroek, Racette and Gagnidze was exemplary. Fabio Luisi's conducting was solid, with fine creative contributions in the Costume Design by Moritz Junge. Less effective, at least in the first opera, were the dim Lighting Design by Paule Constable and unnecessary Choreography by Andrew George. The second opera boasted what must be a first for the Met, Vaudeville Consult by Emil Wolk, which was a welcome addition. The HD Live Direction was by Gary Halvorson, with HD host Susan Graham. It was a fine “finita to this stellar season.

The program will be repeated Wednesday April 29 at 6:30pm. Meanwhile, if you can't wait for the Met's next season of HD broadcasts and find yourself suffering withdrawal symptoms, check out Boston Lyric Opera's up-an-coming production of “Don Giovanni” at the Citi Performing Arts Center/Shubert Theatre May1st to 10th . Check schedule and availability at http://blo.org, and watch for this blog's review on May 2nd.

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