Last Sunday night was perfect for picnicking and listening to some music. We got more than some tunes.
The music of Cavalleria rusticana unfolds with the logic and dramatic inevitability of a symphony; from the first note to the last, one ravishing tune after another. It’s so concise there’s not one lull. Mascagni eliminated recitative, subplots, comic relief, and all the boring claptrap of antique dramaturgy that Mozart, Beethoven and Verdi meekly submitted to. And yet, he finds time for ample orchestral interludes (which Scorcese used unforgettably in Raging Bull) and songs—choral and solo—which sound like spontaneous, genuine singing.
Stuart Neill was tremendous as Turiddu, the simpleton who pays for his infatuation with his life; an act of justice that remedies nothing. Equally powerful were Michelle DeYoung (his discarded Santuzza), Nancy Maultsby (his mother), Tamara Mumford (the icy Lola), Christopher Maltman (Lola’s enraged husband). Just as important & impressive were the L.A. Master Chorale and the Children’s Chorus.
Cavalleria lost nothing being presented without sets, costumes or stage effects. If anything, the concert format emphasized its amazingly modernist swiftness. And the cast could focus all its energy on singing.
Pagliacci shares the same concision and focus. The music is less magnificent, but the drama is more compelling. Moreover, the conceit of the play-within-the-play, and the private lives of the actors spilling tragically onto the public stage, the tears of the clown, provide indelible poetic images. And it, too, provides a demonstration of “justice” that provides no solace, as Nedda dies for her infidelities. As embodied by Julianna Di Giacomo she was utterly familiar, fascinatingly strange, and mesmerizing.
[Image top: Scene from Cavalleria rusticana (Rauzzini, 1891) Image below: cover of the piano reduction of Pagliacci (1892)]