Rusticana / Pagliacci

Reviewer's Rating

This revival of Michieletto’s splendid production of “Cav and Pag” provides a wonderful evening of ‘verismo’ opera. We get singing – and acting – of the highest standard from Garanca, Hymel, and Keenlyside. The sets for both operas provide realistic scenes from village life and the revolve design means that the pace of the action never lags. And it is a satisfying and stylish idea to set the two operas in the same village and to link the stories – as the villagers gather for the Easter service in Cavalleria Rusticana, Nedda and Silvio meet and fall in love, and Mama Lucia and Santuzza are reconciled during the intermezzo in Pagliacci.

The evening begins with Mascagni’s tale of the lecherous Turiddu, his adulterous passion for Lola, the wife of carter Alfio, and his cruel rejection of his former lover, Santuzza. The opera is full of wonderful music – the orchestral intermezzo is perhaps the most famous moment but the brilliance of Mascagni’s musical imagination is evident from the very first notes sung by Turridu offstage, extolling the beauty of his lover Lola. In the two key roles Garanca and Hymel were simply outstanding – Garanca has a rich soprano voice but is also a consummate actor which means that Santuzza’s torment is brought heart-breakingly to life. In the key role of Mamma Lucia, Elena Zilio was excellent but her acting is distinctly “old school”. But the star of the show is Hymel who is superb. His ringing tenor voice was thrilling, with the ability to inject the sobbing break at just the right moments. He is an exceptional actor too and brings to life the vainglorious Turiddu (and, in Pagliacci, the paranoid Canio). Daniel Oren conducted with flamboyant style and the big climaxes had real dramatic impact but there were loose moments in the orchestra and the augmented chorus was not as sharp as the ROH chorus usually is.

Pagliacci is more to be admired for its dramatic power than for its musical highlights.  It is the story of a group of travelling players led by Canio whose wife Nedda has grown tired of him. Hymel demonstrates his stamina by singing Canio brilliantly and showing no signs of fatigue. Simon Keenlyside is a definitive Tonio and his prologue is a show stopper. Carmen Giannattasio returns as Nedda. She has a fine soprano voice, she plays a lovely ‘soubrette’ Colombina in the play within a play and she is very moving as she is torn between fear and bravado when she begins to realise that Canio’s murderous jealousy is the real thing.

The production is splendid. Both operas are set by director, Damiano Michieletto, in a peasant village in southern Italy in the 1960s. The setting looks right and the chorus create a real feeling of a tight rural community riven by rumour and revenge. Cavalleria Rusticana is set inside a bakery and in the village square outside the bakery. Pagliacci is set in the community centre and the action alternates between the hall where the Harlequin/Columbine play takes place and the backstage dressing room where Canio’s sanity begins to unravel as jealousy gets a grip on him.

This production is worthy of a place in the Royal Opera repertoire for many years.  So long as they can attract singers of this stature it is a sure fire hit.