Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci The Metropolitan Opera 2018

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Roberto Alagna takes on the leading tenor roles in both parts of opera’s most popular double bill. In Cavalleria Rusticana, Ekaterina Semenchuk and Eva-Maria Westbroek share the role of the woebegone Santuzza, with Aleksandra Kurzak as the hot-blooded Nedda in Pagliacci. Nicola Luisotti conducts Sir David McVicar’s production, which heightens the melo-dramaticaction of this timeless verismo pairing.

Dates Jan 08 2018 – Feb 01 2018


Two tales of passion, jealousy, and death set in southern Italy, Cav/Pag have been all but inseparable on the opera stages of the world since the Met first presented them as a double bill in 1893. The overwhelming success of Cavalleria was crucial in launching the verismo movement, inspiring other composers (including Leoncavallo) to turn to stories and characters from real life, and often from society’s grungier elements.



Pietro Mascagni (1863–1945) and Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857–1919) both had substantial operatic careers but were never able to repeat the success of their two youthful hits. Leoncavallo’s setting of La Bohème (which premiered a year after Puccini’s version) is occasionally seen on stage. The then-unknown Cavalleria librettists Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci went on to provide other libretti for Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and other composers of the day.


The setting of Cavalleria Rusticana in a Sicilian village is not merely picturesque. The village is, in a sense, a character in the opera—a crude place, untouched by modernity, close to nature’s cycles of life and death and the primitive human rituals associated with them. Pagliacci is originally set in Calabria, the Italian mainland region closest to Sicily. In the Met’s production, the action takes place in the same village across two generations, with Cavalleria set in 1900 and Pagliacci set in 1949.


The score of Cavalleria is direct, unadorned, and honest. The famous intermezzo, often heard outside the opera’s context, summarizes its musical plan: gorgeous, melancholy melody carried by unison strings with very little harmonization. In some ways, Pagliacci expresses verismo ideals even more strongly—most notably in the unity of each scene and the seamless transitions between individual solos. There is, as in Cavalleria, a powerful orchestral intermezzo, but Pagliacci is most noted for its Act I climax, the tenor aria “Vesti la giubba,” one of the world’s most familiar melodies. It was, in Caruso’s rendition, the recording industry’s first million-seller.


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