Masagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” is a classic tale of Sicilian love, betrayal and vengeance in one act, a precise sharp opera set on an Easter morning. Its power is in the emotions that still resonate through contemporary society whether the director opts for a modern or traditional approach. Both versions are capable of enchanting

the audience and “Cavalleria” is always paired with the stunning yet simple opera by Leoncavallo, “Pagliacci”.

Hungarian State Opera’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci” are both directed by Georges Delnon, with conductors Máté Hámori/Pinchas Steinberg leading the orchestra through the sweeping dramatic flourishes and elegant melodies that make up these two intense tragedies.

In “Cavalleria Rusticana”, Turiddu is performed by Kamen Chanev/Attila Fekete (also doubling up as the eponymous Pagliaccio in the second opera), with Santuzza performed by Ildikó Komlósi/Gyöngyi Lukács. Alfio is played by Csaba Szegedi/Alexandru Agache (also as Tonio in Pagliacci).

The other performers in the two operas don’t overlap, so it will be interesting to see how much interlinking there is between the pieces. Damian Michieletto at the Royal Opera House produced a highly successful modernised double production, using the same cast with a strong overlap between the two, but I have also seen the works performed as completely separate operas in their own right.

“Pagliacci” (clowns), set in the deep south of Italy, Calabria, is a cleverly compact drama within a drama with the same rousing emotions as “Cavalleria Rusticana”: love, betrayal, vengeance and inevitable tragedy. “Pagliacci” opens with one of the commedia characters, Taddeo (Tonio), addressing the audience, reminding us that performers are real and underneath all the stage make-up and laughter, they also have emotions.

There is something very sinister about clowns; beneath that comedy and lightness flow dark undercurrents that Leoncavallo works beautifully in his short opera.

Canio’s famous mournful aria “Vesti la giubba” as he transforms himself into Pagliaccio sets the mood for the spiralling tragedy. As the action grows ever more intense, the village crowd is swept away by the clowns’ acting, not realising that tragedy is imminent under a darkening night sky.

As the performance carries on, the troupe leader, Pagliaccio, is whipping up to a jealous volcanic frenzy due to his disloyal wife Nedda, or stage persona Colombina (Zita Váradi/Andrea Rost). Lost in the performance, the villagers are impressed by the troupe’s dramatic acting, just as we are also gripped as an audience.

The dramatic closing line after the tragedy violently jars us back to reality: “La commedia è finita! – The comedy is finished!”

“Cavalleria Rusticana” and “Pagliacci”

Hungarian State Opera
Erkel Theatre, II János Pál Pápa tér 30, District VIII
Sunday March 27
until Wednesday April 27
Tickets and information:

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