Cavalleria Rusticana & Gianni Schicchi (double bill)

Cavalleria Rusticana & Gianni Schicchi (double bill)
Reviewer's rating

Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni, won an important competition for a one-act opera. For the first time, opera featured the lower classes. The age of verismo had begun. Monte Carlo paired it with Gianni Schicchi instead of the usual Pagliacci. It is a clever choice. Inspired by the success of Cavalleria Rusticana, Puccini conceived the idea of three, one-act operas, titled Il trittico (The Triptych). Gianni Schicchi, is the third and most popular of the three one act operas. It is a farce and full of greed and conniving.  Cavalleria is a dark tragedy.

German director Grischa Asagaroff, with Italian Luigi Perego, set and costume designer, tries to link the two operas. The set works for both 20th century Sicily and Florence. There is a balcony centre stage, where Turiddu unashamedly flirts with Lola. The same balcony is used in Schicchi where Rinuncio and Lauretta’s embrace at the end.

Modern productions have interesting action during the overture.  In Cavalleria, we see the Turiddu/Lola romance on the balcony, at first behind a curtain, then they reveal themselves in various states of undress. Santuzza sees it all, horrified. She seeks solace in the Church, but as she opens the Church doors, smoke from Hell pushes her back. This is powerful imagery. There is no light in this production.

Lola and Turiddu were a passionate couple. Turiddu went to join the army. On returning, Lola had married Alfio. Turiddu takes up with Santuzza, often portrayed as pregnant. In this production, both Lola and Turiddu are extremely unpleasant. Lola spies Santuzza from her balcony,  laughs at her, and continues jeering at her throughout.

Uruguayan soprano María José Siri as Santuzza sings at a different level from everyone else. Siri dominates the stage. Siri has an extraordinary voice, for power, subtlety, tragedy, and stage presence. ‘Voi lo sapete’ is heartbreaking. She creates an unusually close relationship with Mamma Lucia, sung by the incredible Italian mezzo Elena Zilio (82!) Zilio sings Mamma Lucia everywhere (recently at ROH) and is tremendous.

Azerbaijani tenor, Yusif Eyvasov as Turiddu sings loudly without subtlety. His Turiddu is particularly nasty during his duet with Santuzza. He abandons her in such a state of jealousy from his betrayal, that she reveals the betrayal to Alfio. This sparks off the fateful duel where Turiddu is killed. Turiddu’s final aria to Mamma Lucia where he asks her to take care of Santuzza does not work dramatically because Eyvasov showed no trace of affection. Roberto Alagna at ROH recently was so conflicted in the Santuzza duet, that his plea to his mother is understandable. Hungarian baritone Peter Kálmán as Alfio finds the opening aria tricky, as do many baritones. The top notes are hoarse and shouted. In his Santuzza duet ‘ad essi non perdono’ is flat. Italian mezzo Annunciata Vestri is a perfect Lola with a rich, sultry voice.

The second one act opera is Gianni Schicchi, an operatic comedy, based on an incident mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy.  

An extremely rich man, Boso, lies dead. His mourning relatives, expecting a fortune, discover they are disinherited and that he has left all his money to the monks in a local monastery. There is only one thing for the family to do and that is to tear the will up and rewrite it. They engage Gianni Schicchi, a notorious conman, who takes the place of the dead body and he dictates a new will to a notary.

The set design is the same as in Cavalleria Rusticana but warm red lighting lifts the atmosphere.

I do not usually enjoy Schicchi. I did this time, due to star Italian baritone, Nicola Alaima, dominating as Schicchi. Larger than life, (he gets larger every time I hear him), few performers can match his vocal, interpretive and comic skills. (I reviewed him here as Figaro in Barber last year).

The rest of close-knit conspirators are all well sung and acted. Notable are Elena Zilio as Zita, and Uruguayan tenor Edgardo Rocha as Rinuccio.  One of Puccini’s best-known arias, Lauretta’s passionate address to her father in  ‘O mio babbino caro’ is sang by the Armenian soprano Nina Minasyan.

Schicchi ends the enjoyable show by addressing the public from the balcony – ‘tell me, gentlemen, could Buoso’s money have ended better than this?’

Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci captures both the dark and her light with ease in her debut here.

An enjoyable evening to be repeated as this new production will travel.


Salle Garnier Opera de Monte Carlo

Cavalleria Rusticana

Music by Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945)

Libretto Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci (after a story by Giovanni Verga)

Conducted by Speranza Scappucci

Directed by Grischa Asagaroff

Photo Credit Marco Borelli

Cast includes María José Siri, Annunziata Vestri, Yusif Eyvazov, Peter Kálmán, Elena Zilio


Gianni Schicchi 

Premièred in New York in 1918

Music by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)

Libretto Giovacchino Forzano based on an episode of Dante’s La Divina Commedia Canto XXX

Conducted by Speranza Scappucci

Directed by Grisha Asagaroff

Photo Credit Marco Borelli

Cast includes Nicola Alaimo, Nina Minasyan, Elena Zilio, Edgardo Rocha, Enrico Casari, Caterina di Tonno, Giovanni Romeo, Giovanni Furlanetto, Eugenio di Lieto

Running time 2 hours 35 minutes with interval