Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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California Does “Cav” and “Pag”

February 9th, 2008

There are a number of shorter operas that have been performed together as a single operatic evening (i.e., two operas for the price of one).  Puccini even wrote three operas (collectively known as “Il Trittico”) that he intended for performance on a single evening. We will highlight the “Trittico” when the Los Angeles Opera presents the three operas together, as Puccini wished, later this year.

But if you ask  veteran operagoers which two operas they would  most likely see as a “Double Bill”, it would be Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana”, followed by Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci”. They are so closely associated with each other that any opera aficionado will understand you if you make reference to “Cav” and “Pag”. Never mind that the hard “g” in “Pag” would never be pronounced in the longer words “pagliaccio” (“player”) and its plural, “pagliacci”. It’s Cav and Pag!

There are reasons why the two operas are traditionally thought to belong together. They are approximately the same length and  have similar structures of highly dramatic scenes, exemplifying rough emotions and savage violence ending in murder, interspersed by languid orchestral intermezzos. They are the operatic realization of a movement in Italian literature concerned with the affairs of people who are part of what the sociologists call the lower socioeconomic classes – ordinary persons, whose lives had not seemed appropriate subject matter for Italian opera before the last decade of the 19th century.

The two works exemplify the “verismo” movement that moved Italian opera in a different direction from that of Verdi and his predecessors. By the mid-1890s, Puccini’s string of operatic successes would make him the dominant force in Italian opera, but for the first few years of that decade, Mascagni and Leoncavallo seemed the brightest of contemporary stars.

The operas were first performed in Italy – “Cav” in 1890, “Pag” in 1892. Their first times appearing together as a pair took place in 1893 in Italy and at the Met in New York. The two operas have a similar distribution of vocal assignments. Each opera has one of the great tenor roles in Italian opera. Canio (Pag) often attracts the larger voiced dramatic tenor; Turridu (Cav) is often sung by a tenor with a voice of somewhat lighter weight, but not by that much. For the baritone roles of Alfio (Cav) and Tonio (Pag), approximately the same vocal weight is required.

“Cav” has a spinto or dramatic soprano (sometimes a mezzo) role, Santuzza, and “Pag” a soprano voice, Nedda, that seems to need an artist with a voice more lyrical and of lighter weight than that required for Santuzza. There are some major co-starring roles in both operas as well.

All in all, the opera house impresario has quite a number of things to think about when casting the Double Bill. In fact, some impresarios have decided to perform just one of the operas in an evening (at full ticket price, of course), a trend this website deplores.

Another observation can be made. Because so many good voices are needed for the two operas, the Double Bill seems to be performed less often than, say, 50 or 75 years ago. In the first half of 2008, there are only two places in the entire United States where performances of the Double Bill are scheduled. One is at the Santa Barbara Opera in late February and early March. The other is at the San Diego Opera in late March through the beginning of April.

Therefore, for those who are fans of the great pairing, or are curious to see them together for the first time, there are two opportunities in California in the next few days and weeks to do just that – one with a young cast in a small, intimate house and the other with a star-filled international cast in a house almost four and a half times larger.

Usually, all of the artists in the Double Bill appear in only one of the operas. However, occasionally artists perform two Double Bill roles on a single evening, such as Turiddu and Canio; Alfio and Tonio; and, occasionally, even Santuzza and Nedda. In the two 2008 California mountings of the Double Bill, there are examples of both tenors and baritones doubling roles.

Allan Glassman’s doubling of the tenor roles is a rarity. Twice I saw Placido Domingo sing both Turiddu and Canio in San Francisco Opera’s 1976 Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production of the Double Bill and he performed the feat at the New York Met two years later. The doubling of the soprano roles is also extremely rare. The originally announced cast of the San Diego Double Bill had Paoletta Marrocu performing the two major soprano roles. The San Diego engagement still shows on Marrocu’s website, but, apparently, she has reprioritized her time to remain in Italy, where, reportedly, she is expecting.

Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni), doubled with I Pagliacci (Leoncavallo), Santa Barbara Opera, February 23, 29, March 2 (matinee), 8.

Conductor Valery Ryfkin leads a cast  of young singers, many already with impressive careers,  in the intimate  680 seat Lobero Theatre.   Allan Glassman sings Turridu (Cav) and Canio (Pag); Malcolm Mackenzie sings Alfio (Cav) and Tonio (Pag).   Layna Chianakas is Santuzza (Cav).   Barbara Divis is Nedda (Pag) and with David Narducci (Silvio) as her amour who sends Canio into a murderous rage.  Linda Brovsky is stage director for both operas.

For the subsequent review, see: Winter of Content Part III – the Santa Barbara Italian Passions Festival

Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni), doubled with I Pagliacci (Leoncavallo),  San Diego  Opera, March 22, 25, 28, 30  (matinee), April 2.

For those seeking internationally famous opera stars, Conductor Edoardo Mueller’s Double Bill cast highlights the Turridu of Richard Leech and the Canio of Jose Cura and Nedda of Elizabeth Futral.   Bruno Caproni assays the major baritone roles in each opera, with Scott Hendricks as Silvio in “Pagliacci”. 

San Diego Opera welcomes home Carter Scott, who has established a European reputation since her appearance at this house in smaller roles in  the mid-1990s,  to sing Santuzza.  The popular character actress, Judith Christin, is Turiddu’s Mamma Lucia.   The stage director for both operas is former San Francisco Opera General Director Lotfi Mansouri.

For the performance reviews see: Tradition and Novelty in San Diego Opera’s New “Cavalleria” – March 22, 2008 and :

Cura, Futral Shine in New San Diego Opera “Pagliacci” – March 22, 2008.

Tags: Quests and Anticipations