Cavalleria rusticana by Mascagni, and Pagliacci, by Leoncavallo, are apparently opera’s most famous double bill. Both operas cover betrayed love and jealousy. Both end with a death. They are satisfyingly epic in this production by New Zealand Opera, supported by the Vector Wellington Orchestra.
The curtain rises on an enormous rocky outcrop. It’s a barren landscape which makes the human drama stand out. The stage revolves which was used to particular effect in CAV during the procession up to the church. (The night I went one of the loose pieces of set threatened to roll off and bean the performers during one of the spins. Opera – so exciting!) There are four principal singers in each opera. I thought the first cast were more powerful (i.e. louder) than the second cast, and the second cast were more dramatic. They are ably supported by a huge chorus which includes children.
CAV is tragedy all the way through. PAG is more comedic. The principals made the most of this opportunity. In CAV they staggered about following the story to the inevitable, shocking conclusion. In PAG they played to the audience, making the most of their crazy characters. It’s not all wonderful. Sometimes the staging is seriously awkward. The surtitles occasionally stopped for no reason that I could see. Luckily there are only a few of those WTF moments in a mostly brilliant production. (And the singing is fabulous.)
- CAV&PAG has two more performances at the St James.