Curtain call at the end of Royal Opera’s latest revival of Cavalleria Rusticana at Covent Garden
Cavalleria Rusticana curtain call

Royal Opera’s latest revival of the classic double bill of Italian verismo operas that has thrilled opera lovers since the time of Enrico Caruso.

I’ve never really made sense of Cavalleria Rusticana on record past the famous tunes but the bitter drama opens up to life with this vibrant modern dress production, stage revolve and above all, surtitles in English. The music has a huge emotional compass, is technically progressive, passionate and supple, this performance seemed much darker than the classic recordings. The prelude action is non-sequential but then there’s a load of story-telling to get through before the plot sort of becomes clear but then, oh then, the opera comes so alive. This staging gives us false perspective, heightening the sense of exclusion. The scenery (in both productions) is set on a stage revolve, in Cavalleria Rusticana the rotation is reversed as an indication of a change of fortune as the dénouement approaches. The singing is gripping, the passion, the warmth but the chilling discords in the famous Easter Hymn now make sense with stage action and dramatic lighting. Wonderful.

With Pagliacci it’s a similar plot but a quite different treatment. The duets are glorious and Jorge de León (tenor) gave us a barnstorming performance of the famous aria Ridi Pagliacci, though impossible not to hear it without an echo in the ear of the old recording of Enrico Caruso, who sung it slightly faster. Again the modern production, seamless changes between the scenes using the stage revolve and with lots of background action, plus surtitles, made it possible to understand the plot. I’m not sure it adds that much, the glory is the singing and the tunes. Leoncavallo pays homage to Wagner a couple of times which both places Pagliacci in musical history and gives musical depth to the already complex plot.
These two operas, entries to composition competitions mounted by Italian music publishers, show the evolution of Italian opera in to the verismo style, which was epitomised in the operas of Giacomo Puccini. At the same time, 1892, a young Gustav Mahler took a group of performers to London and performed a notable Tristan und Isolde to the delight of audiences including Ralph Vaughan Williams. But Italian opera continued to be vastly popular in Northern Europe and New York; the popularity must have been due to the singers, singing and the music and despite the intricate plots that must have been all but incomprehensible to most of the audience.
Interesting stage lighting by Alessandro Carletti, he uses a lot of green light as well as the classic warm-cold axis. Much of the action is necessarily downstage as it is on the revolve so he uses a couple of large floor lamps either side in front of the proscenium arch; the effect is intimate but with large and definite shadows when required. Overall, it looks hauntingly Italian, in conjunction with the colours of the set and the costumes.
It was a emotional moment for me with the lights dimmed and Pietro Mascagni’s music beginning to build in the strings. I treasure the acoustic in the Covent Garden theatre and I’ve heard nothing quite like it since going to ground for the pandemic. Welcome back!


CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, premiere 1892 in Milan
Composer - Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945)

Santuzza - Aleksandra Kurzak
Turiddu - Roberto Alagna
Alfio - Dimitri Platanias
Mamma Lucia - Elena Zilio
Lola - Rachael Wilson

PAGLIACCI, premiere 1890 in Rome
Composer - Ruggero Leoncavallo (1858-1919)

Canio - Jorge de León
Nedda - Anna Princeva
Tonio - Dimitri Platanias
Silvio - Andrzej Filończyk
Beppe - Mikeldi Atxalandabaso

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Royal Opera Chorus
Conducted by Daniel Oren

Director - Damiano Michieletto
Set Designer - Paolo Fantin
Costume Designer - Carla Teti
Lighting Designer- Alessandro Carletti