Author Archive for: ‘CarolBenet’

“Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” at SF Opera

SF Opera opens with Double Bill

Carol Benet

This fall season of the San Francisco Opera opens with an often paired double bill of Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci”, two favorite short operas,  The  famous Argentine tenor, conductor, designer and opera director José Cura has brilliantly put these two together in one production using the same set staging and continuous narrative to join them. The last San Francisco production was in 2003/4.

For these two operas,  written two years apart in the 1890’s,  Cura placed in Buenos Aires during the 1920’s and specifically in the well-known La Boca where the Italian immigrants settled at the fin de siècle.  Tourists still visit there today to see the colorfully painted houses and watch tango dancers on the street.

Small touches join the two operas.  At the beginning of “Cavalleria Rusticana”, a few actors are putting up a poster to announce a roving circus coming to town to perform “Pagliacci”.  The mother figure and tavern owner Mamma Lucia (Jill Grove) appears in both operas and it is she who states the famous line “La commedia è finita” (“The comedy is over”) at the end of the second opera.

The opera starts when Mamma Lucia’s son Turiddu (Roberto Aronica) returns from military service only to find that his lover Lola (Laura Krumm) has married the truck driver Alfio (Dimitri Platanias).  In order to make Lola jealous, Turiddu woos Santuzza (Ekaterina Semenchuk) and here is where the intrigue begins.

When the former lovers reunite, Alfio calls for a duel and kills Turiddu leaving a pregnant Santuzza and heartbroken Lola and mother.  A couple (Alexandra Fitzgibbon and Jekyns Peláez) perform a sensuous dance (choreographed by Lawrence Pech) that fits the Argentine street scene, one that is filled with a chorus of townspeople who gather to celebrate Easter Sunday.

The second opera, “Pagliacci”, meaning “clowns”, is much more famous, particularly for the aria that starts with “Ridi Paglaccio” (“Laugh Pagliaccio”) sung by Canio (Marco Berti), the lead clown in  the roving troupe scheduled to perform the commedia dell’arte at sunset.  Canio sings this beloved aria though his tears where he is telling himself that “the show must go” on despite his wife Nedda’s (Lianna Haroutounian) affair with Silvio (Davie Pershall).  The famous ending with Canio stabbing the  love pairon stage  seems so real that it takes a bit of time for the  spectators to recognize the tragedy.

The entire production is in the Italian “verismo” style and “Pagliacci” inspired Federico Fellini’s film “La Strada” of 1954 with Giulietta Masina and Anthony Quinn that used the same story ending in an unforgettable death scene.

The musical conductor Daniele Callegari leads the excellent SF  Opera Orchestra in beautiful long prologues and musical interludes without action or singing. The revival of Cura’s production was done by  Jose Maria Condemi’s but still uses Cura’s original set design.

Ian Robertson’s directing of the fine SF Opera Chorus is at its usual high standard.

“Cavalleria Rusticana” and  “Pagliacci” run through September 30.  SFopera.org or 415 864 3330.