Italian composers Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavello, together with Giacomo Puccini, were the last representatives of the Italian realist tradition known as “verismo” (realism).
It was a tradition in theatre and opera that reached its height with Giuseppe Verdi.
Verismo sought to explore the darker side of human behaviour, using dramatic plots in settings that portrayed genuine social situations.
As Tonio, a character in the opera Pagliacci puts it, “You will see people love as they do in real life, and you will see true hatred.”
Its vivid depictions of everyday life usually focus on poor or working class characters.
Cavalleria Rusticana is a tale of rustic chivalry based on a Sicilian blood feud. While Turridu was away in the army, his lover Lola married Alfio. He consoled himself by seducing Santuzza, but abandoned her to have an adulterous affair with Lola. Alfio challenges Turridu to a duel.
In Pagliacci, Canio, an actor in a travelling theatre company, finds that his wife Nedda has been unfaithful with local villager Silvio. And that’s just as they are about to enact a comedy about a cuckolded husband Pagliaccio.
In the play Pagliaccio, played by Canio, demands that Columbina, played by Nedda, reveal her lover’s name. Nedda soon realises that Canio is not acting. She struggles to continue with the play, but Canio refuses to pretend.
This audience applauds his apparently true-to-life acting. But Canio really kills both Nedda and Silvio.
This is a fine new production, with the action set in southern Italy today.
The sets are imaginative. And there is some fine singing from Aleksandrs Antonenko as both Turridu and Canio, Dimitri Platanias as both Alfio and Tonio, Carmen Giannattasio as Nedda and Eva-Maria Westbroek as Santuzza.
The orchestra under Antonio Pappano vividly expresses the pulsating emotions and the thunderous action of this double-bill.
Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci
Royal Opera House,
London WC2E 9DD
Until 1 January