Musicologist and conductor Nigel Simeone introduces the history and background of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, at an Insight event with ROH Learning and Participation. Find out more at http://www.roh.org.uk/cavandpag
Pietro Mascagni adapted Giovanni Verga’s play Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) for a competition held by the music publisher Edoardo Sonzogno. His opera, a verismo masterpiece, won the competition and became a tremendous success on its premiere in May 1890. Cavalleria rusticana was an undoubted influence on Ruggero Leoncavallo when he too wrote a short opera for Sonzogno, this time based on a true story. His Pagliacci, first performed in May 1892, was another huge success. The two works, sharing dramatic concision, melodic richness and an obsession with violent jealousy, were soon paired and have since become almost inseparable.
Both Mascagni and Leoncavallo were members of the giovane scuola (young school). They, like many of their contemporaries, were interested in the verismo movement that was in vogue in Italian theatre, which sought to reproduce on stage the realities of rustic Italian life. Both Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci are prime examples of verismo opera, each containing music that gives a strong sense of their setting in a southern-Italian poverty-stricken village and the characters within it. Both are rich with melodies that have been championed by the greatest singers of the 20th century: Turiddu’s brindisi ‘Viva il vino spumeggiante’ and Santuzza’s melancholic ‘Voi lo sapete, o mama’ from Cavalleria rusticana; Tonio’s ‘Un nido di memorie’ and Canio’s ‘Vesti la giubba’ from Pagliacci. Italian director Damiano Michieletto updates the works to southern Italy in the late 20th century, to a village in the grip of poverty and hypocrisy, where strong passions lurk in the dark.,