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Opera’s Popular Double Bill, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, Will Be Telecast on PBS Great Performances September 6


Sunday of Labor Day weekend will be a music lover’s dream – especially among opera devotees, as PBS’ Great Performances at the Met telecasts two tales of passion, jealousy, adultery, and death in the double bill that’s been inseparable on world opera stages: Pietro Mascagni’s one act Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Calvary) and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (Clowns), two acts and prologue — on September 6 at Noon [check local PBS schedules].

This is first new Metropolitan Opera production of Cav/Pag in 45 years. Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham hosts with wonderful insight into the two operas which, she says, “are the crown jewels of verismo, the hot-blooded genre of operatic realism.”

On their debuts, both took the opera world by storm. Though they possess similar themes, the plots and musical styles are vastly different.

Argentina’s international, award-laden superstar tenor Marcelo Álvarez is certainly used to challenges. Since his Met debut in 2000 as the Italian Singer in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and more recently in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera and Il Trovatore and Puccini’s Tosca, he’s become an audience favorite.


Doing formidable double-duty in Cav/Pag, directed by Sir David McVicar, he rose to great acclaim “giving impassioned performances” that gave ample evidence “their explicit, hair-trigger emotionalism, still has the power to shock.”

The double bill is a feast for the eyes and ears. Sir David has linked location, Sicily, but in different periods – 50 years apart. He segued through time, choosing to set Cav in a 1900s village, a closed society guided by superstition, ritual, religion, and ancient codes broken at one’s peril; and Pag, with its flamboyant trappings, in what is now a grubby late 40s town square and a vaudeville-style music hall.

Both feature the Met’s huge chorus. The company was under the baton of principal conductor Fabio Luisi. There are two overtures – stirring and jarring for Cav; lushly romantic for Pag. The production – a spare, dark Cav; the rich Pag – has costumes by Moritz Junge and set design by Rae Smith (Olivier and Tony Awards, National Theatre of Great Britain production and reprise for Lincoln Center Theatre of War Horse).


The former has a libretto by Giovanni from a play and short story by Giovanni Verga. It had an unusual route to the stage: winning a one-act opera contest.

Pag is the only Leoncavallo opera that’s widely staged. Its Canio became one of Caruso’s signature roles.

In Cav, Álvarez’s impetuous peasant Turiddu, who returns from military service to find he’s been jilted by his fiancé, becomes entangled in a love quadrangle. Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek, in a wildly seductive performance, is Santuzza, whom he seduces and then abandons for his former love. However, Santuzza has wiles of her own.


The one act is famed for its poignant Intermezzo, Turiddu’s “The Sicilian,” Santuzza’s “Voi lo sapete,” the town folks’ Easter hymn “Regina Coeli,” and Turiddu’s breathtaking finale, the famed aria “Mamma! Un altro bacio! Addio (Mamma! One more kiss…Addio).”

In Pag, opposite the tenor’s Canio, a clown with murder in his heart, soprano Patricia Racette co-stars as his unfaithful wife Nedda, who will pay for her sins.

Pag’s spectacular moment is when Canio applies greasepaint to go onstage, where he’s told he’ll discover his wife’s lover, and sings one of opera’s most famous and melodious arias, “Vesti la glubba (Put on the Costume).”


Álvarez is not alone in doing double-duty in the double bill. Sensational baritone George Gagnidze sings of Alfio in Cav and Tonio in Pag.

Corporate support for Great Performances at the Met is provided by Toll Brothers, the Irene Diamond Fund, the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Arts Fund, the Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, the Agnes Varis Trust, and public TV viewers like you.

Gary Halvorson directs the telecast, with multiple Grammy winner [for opera and theater] Jay David Saks as music producer. Met general manager Peter Gelb is exec producer. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer, with David Horn as exec producer.


Ellis Nassour is an Ole Miss alum and noted arts journalist and author who recently donated an ever-growing exhibition of performing arts history to the University of Mississippi. He is the author of the best-selling Patsy Cline biography, Honky Tonk Angel, as well as the hit musical revue, Always, Patsy Cline.

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