TIME: Late 19th century
PLACE: A village in Calabria
Turiddu’s voice is heard in a serenade to Lola (Siciliana: O Lola ch'ai di latti la cammisa), his former sweetheart who is now Alfio’s wife.
Just before dawn on Easter Sunday, villagers rejoice in the spring (Chorus: Gli aranci olezzano) before entering church. Santuzza comes to the inn on the square, where Turiddu and his mother Lucia live. Having been excommunicated, the girl inquires after Turiddu so desperately that Lucia becomes alarmed.
A cracking whip and harness bells herald the arrival of Alfio the carter, telling of his life in the open air and of his love for Lola (Aria: Il cavallo scalpita). A choir within the church sings the “Regina Coeli.” This leads to a hymn to the Savior sung by townspeople — including Santuzza — in the square (Chorus with Solo: Inneggiamo, il Signor non è morto).
After the crowd enters the church, Santuzza confesses to Lucia that Turiddu had turned to her for consolation after Lola’s marriage. Now, however, Lola has stolen Turiddu away (Aria: Voi lo sapete, o mamma). Santuzza asks Lucia to pray for her, and Lucia goes into the church.
When Turiddu arrives, he is unexpectedly confronted by Santuzza (Duet: Tu qui, Santuzza?). He claims to have been in a nearby village buying wine for Lucia, but Santuzza replies that he was seen near Lola’s house. She reproaches him for deserting her. He denies being in love with Lola, and tells Santuzza to be silent lest her accusations reach Alfio, who would certainly kill him. Terrified, Santuzza says she will forgive him if he will return to her.
Lola’s voice is heard (Stornello: Fior di giaggiolo). She comes into the square and mocks Santuzza cruelly before entering the church. Turiddu starts to follow, but Santuzza begs him to stay with her (Duet: No, no, Turiddu). He shoves her aside and rushes into the church. When Alfio appears, Santuzza reveals that Lola and Turiddu are lovers (Duet: Oh! Il Signor vi manda). Alfio’s initial disbelief turns to rage, and he swears vengeance. The two depart, leaving the square empty (Intermezzo).
When the townspeople emerge from church, Turiddu invites everyone for a glass of wine at his mother’s inn (Brindisi: Viva il vino spumeggiante). Alfio violently rejects the wine. As the women lead Lola away, her husband challenges Turiddu to a duel and goes off to await him behind the orchard. Turiddu bids his mother farewell (Aria: Mamma, quel vino è generoso), begging her to care for Santuzza should he not return.
As the tension mounts, the square fills with people. Suddenly a villager shouts that Turiddu has been killed.
PLACE: A small town in Italy
Tonio, a clown, delivers his prologue: He exhorts his hearers to look beyond the actors’ costumes to the glimpse of true human emotions provided by the play (Prologue: Si può?).
The village welcomes a troupe of traveling players. Canio, the leader, promises a great performance that night. As he accepts the offer of some wine at the inn, Tonio volunteers to stay behind to unhitch the mule. Villagers suggest that he simply wants to flirt with Nedda, Canio’s wife. Canio declares that if he caught Nedda with another man, he would react quite differently from his stage character, Pagliaccio (Aria: Un tal gioco). Bagpipers arrive just as the church bells ring for vespers (Chorus: Don, din, don).
The crowd disperses, leaving Nedda alone. She spies a flock of birds and envies their carefree existence (Ballatella: Stridono lassù). Tonio interrupts with declarations of love. Nedda rejects him first with sarcasm, then with a lash from a whip. Swearing vengeance, Tonio rushes away. Almost immediately the villager Silvio appears (Duet: Silvio? a quest’ora). He loves Nedda and persuades her to run away with him. Tonio returns with Canio in time for the latter to hear Nedda’s parting words to Silvio: “Until tonight, and I’ll be yours forever.” Canio runs after Silvio, whom he did not recognize. Unable to catch him, he then threatens Nedda and demands her lover’s name, which she refuses to reveal. Brokenhearted, Canio prepares for the performance (Aria: Vesti la giubba).
That evening, the commedia is performed. It begins as Colombina (Nedda) announces that her husband Pagliaccio (Canio) is away for the evening. While awaiting Taddeo (Tonio), who is to bring supper, she hears her lover Arlecchino (Beppe) singing outside her window (Serenade: O Colombina). In return for his love-offering of supper, Taddeo is received sarcastically by Colombina. Once Arlecchino arrives for his rendezvous with Colombina, they rid themselves of Taddeo. Arlecchino produces a sleeping potion and suggests that Colombina facilitate their elopement by drugging her husband. She agrees just as Taddeo bursts in to say that Pagliaccio has returned, after learning of Colombina’s infidelity. Taddeo and Arlecchino run out, but Pagliaccio enters in time to hear Colombina sigh to her retreating lover, “Until tonight and I’ll be yours forever.”
When he appears onstage, Canio lapses from his stage role into furious reproach as Nedda attempts to stay in character. He draws a knife on her and demands her lover’s name. Before the horrified crowd, he stabs her. Fatally wounded, she cries for Silvio, whom Canio stabs as well. Tonio turns to the audience and announces, “The comedy has ended.”
Learn more about the opera — read an in-depth article on Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci
CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and PAGLIACCI on CD
Recommendations by Roger Pines, Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
The sets that include both operas are all splendid, although it definitely takes some adjustment of the ear to accept these two works in English (Chandos recording). The insights of Maria Callas and Tito Gobbi in their performances from La Scala prove especially revelatory. For more glamorous-sounding vocal performances that also communicate the essence of the pieces dramatically, try the set starring Luciano Pavarotti and two of the most musical of all sopranos in this repertoire, Julia Varady and Mirella Freni, under Giuseppe Patanè's experienced baton.
All of the other performances are worth investigating, although not in all of them does dramatic intensity work side by side with vocal splendor. For example, Zinka Milanov (Santuzza) and Montserrat Caballé (Nedda) are luxuriant voices for both these roles, but there are no major revelations of character in their portrayals. A better bet is Fiorenza Cossotto (Santuzza), whose pairing with Carlo Bergonzi under Karajan's baton produces probably the most satisfying Cavalleria ever recorded. Of the multiple performances of these two works with Plácido Domingo, he is at his most overwhelmingly passionate in the two recordings he made as film soundtracks (with Georges Prêtre conducting).
The pre-1950 performances are glorious experiences for anyone who can accept sound that is decidedly not state of the art. Particularly strong are Rosetta Pampanini, Carlo Galeffi, and the excitingly Corelli-like Francesco Merli in a miraculous 1930 La Scala-based Pagliacci. Those three giants of Italian opera during the interwar years are the stuff of legend in this opera, communicating vibrant characterizations through every word and note.
Notes: Recordings are all listed in chronological order, the most recent recording first.
Both works together
IN ENGLISH: Cavalleria - Miricioiu, O'Neill, Joll; Pagliacci - O'Neill, Mannion, Opie, Dazeley; London Philharmonic Orchestra, c. Parry. (Chandos; Pagliacci available separately)
Cavalleria - Varady, Pavarotti, Cappuccilli; Pagliacci - Freni, Pavarotti, Wixell, Saccomani; London Opera Chorus, National Philharmonic Orchestra, c. Patanè (Decca)
Cavalleria - Obratzsova, Domingo, Bruson; Pagliacci - Domingo, Stratas, Pons, Rinaldi; Orchestra of La Scala, c. Prêtre.(Philips - Pagliacci also available separately)
Cavalleria - Caballé, Carreras, Manuguerra; Pagliacci - Scotto, Carreras, Nurmela, Allen; Philharmonia Orchestra, c. Muti (Classics for Pleasure)
Cavalleria - de los Angeles, Corelli, Sereni; Pagliacci: Amara, Corelli, Gobbi, Zanasi; Rome Opera, c. von Matačič (EMI Classics)
Cavalleria - Callas, di Stefano, Panerai; Pagliacci - Callas, di Stefano, Gobbi, Panerai; Orchestra of La Scala, c. Serafin EMI Classics ("Callas Edition")
Baltsa, Domingo, Pons; Philharmonia Orchestra, c. Sinopoli (DG)
DG (one disc)
Cossotto, Bergonzi, Guelfi; Orchestra of La Scala, c. Karajan.
Milanov, Björling, Merrill; RCA Victor Orchestra, c. Cellini (RCA)
Simionato, di Stefano, Gobbi; Orchestra of La Scala, c. Votto (Myto)
Cura, Frittoli, Alvarez, Keenlyside; Amsterdam Concertgebouw, c. Chailly (Decca)
Pavarotti, Dessì, Pons, Coni; Philadelphia Orchestra, c. Muti (Philips)
Domingo, Caballè, Milnes, McDaniel; London Symphony Orchestra, c. Santi (RCA)
Bergonzi, Carlyle, Taddei, Panerai; Orchestra of La Scala, c. Karajan (DG)
de los Angeles, Björling, Warren, Merrill; RCA Victor Orchestra, c. Cellini (EMI Classics)
Of special interest
Cavalleria - Bruna Rasa, Gigli, Bechi; Pagliacci – Gigli, Pacetti, Basiola; Orchestra of La Scala, c. Mascagni (Cavalleria), Ghione (Pearl or Nimbus)
NOTE: Pagliacci also available separately on Naxos or Opera d'Oro
Merli, Pampanini, Galeffi, Vanelli; Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, c. Molajoli (Preiser)
Paoli, Huguet, Pini-Corsi, Cigada; Orchestra of La Scala, c. Sabajno (Bongiovanni)
FIRST COMPLETE RECORDING OF THE OPERA, 1907
CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and PAGLIACCI on DVD
Recommendations by Roger Pines, Dramaturg, Lyric Opera of Chicago
The Zeffirelli performances are actual on-location movies, whereas the others are stage performances (although Karajan's are on film, while the others are video). It's thrilling to be able to see and hear three of the greatest Canios in the history of the role: Vladimir Galouzine (scheduled to sing Pagliacci at Lyric in 2008-09), Plácido Domingo, and Jon Vickers. Partnering Vickers is the womanly, vocally thrilling Raina Kabaivanska, while doll-like Maria Bayo (with Galouzine) and waif-like Teresa Stratas (with Domingo) have equally valid views of Nedda. So, with so much excellence from principal singers, the choice may well be decided by the visual element: Not all viewers will enjoy the all-white, abstract setting for Madrid's Cavalleria, while the locations chosen by Zeffirelli for both Cavalleria and Pagliacci are totally appropriate.
The filming of opera and singers' acting for the screen have improved radically in the days since Giulietta Simionato's Santuzza was captured on camera in Japan. Still, that performance is eminently worth catching because the great Italian mezzo totally embodies this desperately unhappy character, singing and acting as if her life depended on it. Karajan wasn't much of a film director; the endless close-ups of his Cav/Pag are too much of a not-so-good thing, and some of the singers are seemingly encouraged to overact Still, the opportunity to watch Vickers's uniquely moving Canio is ample compensation.
Both operas together:
Cavalleria - Urmana, La Scola; Pagalicci - Galouzine, Bayo, Guelfi; Gran Teatre del Liceu, cond. López Cobos, dir. G. del Monaco (Opus Arte)
Cavalleria - Obratzsova, Domingo, Bruson; Pagliacci - Domingo, Stratas, Pons, Rinaldi; La Scala, cond. Prêtre, dir. Zeffirelli. (DG)
Cavalleria - Cossotto, Cecchele, Guelfi; Pagliacci - Vickers, Kabaivanska, Glossop, Panerai; cond. and dir. Karajan. (DG)
Simionato, Lo Forese, d'Orazi; NHK Symphony Orchestra, cond. Morelli (VAI)