April 28, 2020

Two terrific tenors star in CAV/PAG this fall

A thrilling verismo double feature starring two terrific American tenors launches Lyric’s 66th season in September — and we can’t wait to see and hear them take on these riveting roles. 

Brian Jagde (rhymes with shade) will portray Turiddu in Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni, and Russell Thomas will make his role debut as Canio in Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo, singing one of the most famous arias ever, “Vesti la giubba,” a brokenhearted clown’s lament as he puts on makeup and costume. (Think of it as the original “Tears of a Clown.” Or a makeup tutorial gone terribly wrong.)

Both turn-of-the-last-century composers were essentially one-hit wonders who never matched the triumphs of these short operas. Mascagni wrote Cav for a contest and won big. His success inspired Leoncavallo to try his hand with Pag. Both stories center on deadly love triangles. 

In Cavalleria rusticana (“Rustic chivalry”), set in a Sicilian village, Turiddu has taken up with Santuzza, but still loves Lola, who is now married to Alfio. Santuzza is crushed to discover her beloved is sneaking around with his former sweetheart, but Turiddu rejects her pleas to return. She tells Alfio; a duel and much heartbreak ensue.

Cavalleria rusticana

In Pagliacci (“Clowns”), two romantic triangles set a ragtag commedia dell’arte troupe on edge. Tonio is a brooding clown besotted with Nedda, who is married to Canio, the fiercely jealous head of the troupe. Nedda rejects Tonio’s advances and plots to run away with her secret lover, a townie named Silvo. After Tonio overhears their plans, the play within a play about a cuckolded husband becomes shatteringly real.



"Mascagni wrote such passionate, volatile music in Cavalleria rusticana, and for me, singing Turiddu is always a thrilling experience,” says Brian, who earned accolades as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly at Lyric in February and early March. “Although it’s a one act, there’s so much that happens with the dramatic and musical arc of this character in the span of the piece, and Turiddu’s emotions are combustible right up until the end. I sang the role in concert last year for a recording, and I debuted it on stage in a new production in Amsterdam. It’s quickly become one of my favorites to perform. I can’t wait to get back to Chicago to sing in the amazing acoustic of the Lyric Opera House.”

“I’m excited to sing Pagliacci,” Russell says. “Canio is one of the iconic spinto tenor roles that all the great tenors have sung, and all of us have heard the famous aria. It’s like ‘La donna e mobile’ in Rigoletto — everybody knows it, so there’s a bit of pressure!” Compared to his previous triumphant portrayals at Lyric, Pollione in Norma and Manrico in Il trovatore, Russell notes that Canio is “not a hero. He’s a very human guy reacting strongly to actual infidelity — it’s real, he sees it happen — not like Otello, who’s been led to believe his wife has been unfaithful. I’ve been doing a lot of Otellos lately. In the time of #MeToo we have to be careful how we portray these characters who react so strongly to infidelity.” For those not familiar with the story, “The biggest thing is the show within a show,” Russell says, “figuring out what’s play and what’s real? Is Canio joking or is he serious? What’s life and what’s putting on a show? That was the most interesting for me, when I saw it as a kid.” 

Of his return to Chicago, the Atlanta resident looks forward to “not being there in the winter! Every time I’ve been there it’s been cold! I love Chicago, it’s a great city — and to be in that space! There’s so much history on that stage. I relish the weight of it, the occasion — that’s everything, being in a space that’s been occupied by people I admire.” 


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Photos: Fay Fox, Dan Rest, Felix Sanchez/Houston Grand Opera