Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

27/08/2011 - 03/09/2011

Aotea Centre at THE EDGE®, Auckland

15/09/2011 - 25/09/2011

Production Details

Cav & Pag – two operas, three murders, four love affairs, and a string of greatest hits

Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (or Cav & Pag as they’re more commonly known) form opera’s most famous double bill. These two one-act operas, with their emotive, true-to-life storylines told through passionate and thrilling music, signified the beginning of verismo as an opera style – realistic depictions of everyday life that are so real, “sometimes you don’t know if you’re acting or in real life, the line is so thin”, says Marcin Bronikowski who sings Alfio in Cavalleria rusticana and Silvio in Pagliacci. Or as Warwick Fyfe, Tonio in Pagliacci,says of that opera: “Pagliacci is the archetypal verismo opera – musical shock treatment: sweaty, intense and creaturely; a short but devastating primal scream of an opera.”

The NBR New Zealand Opera’s production of Cav & Pag, opening in Wellington on Saturday 27 August and Auckland on Thursday 15 September, will be raw and real, with plenty for today’s audiences to identify with. “Though they were written over 100 years ago, these two operas have a modern sensibility,” General Director of the opera company, Aidan Lang, says. “In the theatre, under the expertise of English director Mike Ashman and New Zealanders John Parker (set designer) and Elizabeth Whiting (costume designer), you’ll be treated to a dynamic, contemporary experience. You won’t see anything old fashioned in these operas. They’re being created in a fresh, intelligent and exciting manner.”

Two top-notch casts, hailing from all corners of the globe and under the baton of acclaimed Slovakian maestro Oliver von Dohnanyi, take the stage.

Cavalleria rusticana features English tenor Peter Auty as Turiddu, Ukrainian soprano Anna Shafajinskaia sings Santuzza, Polish baritone Marcin Bronikowski (Marcello in La bohème, 2008) is Alfio, and New Zealanders Anna Pierard and Wendy Doyle sing the roles of Lola and Mamma Lucia respectively.

Pagliacci sees Mexican tenor Rafael Rojas take the role of Canio while American soprano Elizabeth Futral sings Nedda, Australian baritone Warwick Fyfe is Tonio, Marcin Bronikowski sings Silvio, and Kiwi Andrew Glover is Beppe.

Cavalleria rusticana has some of the most beautiful music ever written, inspired by some of the less admirable but always stage-worthy human traits: jealousy, betrayal, lust and revenge. All this in one act!” – Anna Pierard (Lola in Cavalleria rusticana) 

Even if you’re new to Cav & Pag, the chances are very high that you’ll recognise much of the music, particularly Cavalleria rusticana which has been used in everything from commercials to the movie The Godfather Part 3. “Cav & Pag is a veritable ‘greatest hits’ of opera,” Lang says. “From the rousing Easter Hymn and the famous Intermezzo in Cavalleria rusticana, to one of the greatest of all tenor arias, Pagliacci’s heart-rending ‘Vesti la giubba’, expect the recognition button to be switched on.”

Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci are sung in Italian with English surtitles. They are accompanied by the Vector Wellington Orchestra and the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, with the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus.


Wellington – St James Theatre
Sat 27 Aug & Thu 1, Sat 3 Sep – 7.30pm; Tue 30 Aug – 6pm

Auckland – Aotea Centre, THE EDGE
Thu 15, Sat 17, Wed 21, Fri 23 Sep – 7.30pm; Sun 25 Sep – 2.30pm 

Tickets: $49.50 to $187.50. Concessions available for benefactors, senior citizens, students and group bookings. Service fees apply.

Bookings: The NBR NZ Opera Box Office, Tel (09) 379 4068 or (04) 499 8343, or:
Wellington: Ticketek, Tel 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 538) or
Auckland: The Edge, Tel 0800 BUYTICKETS (0800 289 842) or

The NBR New Zealand Opera receives core funding from Creative New Zealand 
Further information:   

Two magnificent stories for the price of one

Review by William Dart 20th Sep 2011

NBR New Zealand Opera’s coupling of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci is a thriller double bill, unified into a stylish Sicilian saga of lust, violence, murder and memorable music.

In a night of star turns, John Parker’s set is first to catch our eye; a central monolith cunningly revolves from scene to scene, adding new dramatic perspectives. Director Mike Ashman creates magical illusions in time and space by setting its turns against the movements of the cast. [More
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First rate, top class, spellbinding

Review by Adey Ramsel 16th Sep 2011

Cav & Pag is New Zealand Opera’s production of the traditional pairing of one act operas Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. Praise, credit and kudos to a creative team on and off stage that not only produced one of the most enjoyable nights I have spent in a theatre, but also a seamless one.

John Parker’s realistic and masterly set design fits so snug in and around the cast and tales that one can’t imagine it not being the original. Never have I seen such precision in set changes, execution (and therefore the initial build) but also in the way it hugs the opera’s to itself and presents us with a whole, not merely a platform for the tales to be told upon. 

Elizabeth Whiting has once more brought inventiveness to her costume designs, splitting eras and genres and creating a visual feast, drawing on tradition and originality. 

Director Mike Ashman has created a seamless masterpiece, drawing the obvious time-honoured parallels between the two short operas. By maintaining the visual and creative vision, he presents us with a narrative that can only rise and build to the ultimate curtain. His use of the Chapman Tripp Chorus as linking characters, and not just vocal wallpaper for the leads, is clever, simple and acts as glue for the two sides of what is virtually the same coin. 

At certain points during Pagliacci I could not help but think back to Cavalleria, unable to distinguish its churchgoers from the travelling troupe’s audience. Having already had an injection of adrenaline from danger and excitement outside the church, now they gather in front of a stage eager for more.

Certainly Pagliacci benefits from having Cavalleria precede it and build to an interval climax but Cav is no mere prologue. It is beautiful, exquisite in its pitch of religious symbolism and at times very moving. 

Knowing that murder and heartbreak can only follow such a set up (Santuzza is pregnant by Turiddu who has gone back to his first love Lola, who in turn is married to Alfio – this is Opera!), makes the Easter Procession all the more poignant. Once more there is to be inevitable bloodshed and sacrifice in the world.

When the finale does arrive it is handled well, no gushing of blood and gore, but rather a sense of pre-determined doom of a man who has made his own coffin and now has to lie in it. 

Pagliacci – a favourite story of mine for many a year – has it all. Again we predict the ending is not going to be all roses and chocolates and we lap it up all the more. 

The tale of the clown, cuckolded by his wife in real life, who goes on to demand the truth from her whilst enacting a play is the ultimate in masquerade. When is the mask on or off? Who is real and how can anyone continue to make the world laugh when heartbreak rips you apart inside?

From a leather-clad cast to well executed comedy and slapstick (paying very careful attention to traditional Commedia), Pagliacci’s (Rafael Rojas) first act close, ‘Vesti la guibba’ is one of the classics of opera and last night we could have been in any opera house in the world. 

First rate, top class, spellbinding, I defy anyone to come away from Pagliacci unmoved.

As a whole Cav & Pag is the evening to introduce those young and old who don’t ‘do’ opera to its delights. Here we have two modern-day suspense thrillers that employ the techniques of storytelling in its truest art form. If only those who sit at home and pooh-pooh such art would park their bums in front of this instead, for two hours, and at the very least give it a chance, they’d find very little difference between their favourite screen entertainment and this electrifying stimulation.

And of course there’s an insight to take home: truth will out. Whether it be Turiddu declaring that Santuzza is the love of his life and the one his mother should look after once he is slain, or Silvio rushing to the defence of his lover, truth will always out. That death and soul destruction follows is an indictment of the follies that lead those characters to revealing themselves in the first place.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on opera and fudge my way through a critique of the vocal ability of the cast – they deserve more than that and others will serve that purpose. However, from a stage performance viewpoint, Anna Shafajinskaia (Santuzza) leads a strong cast of five in Cavalleria, floating effortlessly between heartbreak, revenge and religious piety. Her stage presence is astounding and a pleasure to watch.

Peter Auty as Turiddu gives off a dynamic bravado, filling the stage with a cocky swagger and sliding into despair at his fate. Anna Pierard and Wendy Doyle fly the Kiwi flag as Lola and Mamma Lucia, embracing their supporting roles and doing us proud. 

Marcin Bronikowski has the only dual lead role of the night, playing Alfio in Cavalleria and Silvio in Pagliacci, presenting us with two distinct sides of the lover coin. (One does wonder though, in his role of Silvio, why Nedda would fall for such a ‘plain’ man? Female emotions aside, Silvio’s clothing would not make him a ready made lover to a woman such as Nedda, so outrageous in lifestyle and style itself. Just a nit pick but being different from her husband is not enough, surely he needs to be an alternative as well – a slender, sexier version of Canio maybe, or the other extreme and push the costume he does wear to that of a spiv in sharp suit, waistcoat, tie?)

Rafael Rojas as Canio/Pagliacci fills the stage with voice, body and character. His soulful sobs do their best to bring us over to his side and would, I’m sure, split the audience into Canio and Nedda camps. 

As Nedda, Elizabeth Futral is my pick of the night, heartfelt, intriguing with more than a touch of sexual danger. For the first time in opera I see a woman I can actually believe two men would fight over to the death. She moves with the grace of a performer who thinks on her feet, and not more so than in the Commedia element. Funny and tragic, I am certainly in the Nedda camp.

Warwick Fyfe gives us the bloated clown Tonio, the archetypal ‘Don’t laugh at me because I’m a fool’, and wears his heart on his sleeve, holding equal measures of love and spite. Well tuned and perfectly paced, a homage to the silent movie days of Fatty Arbuckle et al, it is a delight to watch this monster manipulate the others. Kiwi Andrew Glover as Beppe/Harlequin rounds off the leads, giving attention to detail and controlled timing of a physical dexterity perfectly suited to the Commedia.

The Chapman Tripp Chorus provides a robust and convincing troupe of spectators, strong in voice and precise in movement, backed by the Auckland Philharmonia under the expert baton of Oliver von Dohnanyi. Again, all a pleasure to watch and hear.

What more can I say; don’t be stupid, you have to go, the rugby’s not on every night!  
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Powerful, dramatic works shattering yet uplifting

Review by Paul Diamond 01st Sep 2011

These two short operas, just over an hour each and known as Cav & Pag, premiered in 1890 and 1892 respectively. Since 1893, they have tended to be performed together, always in the same order. It’s an apt pairing, both being concerned with timeless tragic stories of love that goes wrong, ending in violence. 

In this production, both operas share the same striking set: a rotating central section flanked by two platforms. Very realistic fake rock covers the surfaces, and the platforms and pathways are flanked with a white chain fence with crosses – a visual cue to the religious settings of both operas, set here in the present day. 

Cavalleria Rusticana is set in a Sicilian village on Easter morning, as villagers prepare for a church service. Santuzza, a village girl discovers that her lover Turiddu is having an affair with Lola, the wife of Alfio, the village teamster. Turiddu left the army because of his love for Lola, but on returning to the village, discovered she was married. 

As the village is preparing for church, Santuzza asks Turiddu’s mother Lucia, where her son is. Santuzza cannot enter the church because she has been excommunicated (in this production she is pregnant, suggesting a reason for this). After Santuzza confronts Turiddu, things begin to unravel, culminating in a dramatic duel scene. 

Before this happens, there’s a chance to hear the famous intermezzo (a favourite of the NZSO when I was growing up), a lull in the action before the dénouement. A strength of this production is the way the chorus villagers integrate so well into the dramatic action. The soloists are all strong, particularly Anna Shafajinskaia as Santuzza, and Peter Auty as Turiddu. 

Pagliacci is set in the same village, and follows directly on from the dramatic events in Cavalleria Rusticana. This opera is preceded by a prologue, sung by Tonio, a member of a Commedia dell’arte troupe of players who are to perform a play in the village. Tonio tells the audience they are about to see a real story about real people, reminding them that the actors are “flesh and bone” just like them. The prologue sets up the tension between the play within the play that follows. 

Nedda is married to Canio, the leader of the troupe. When Tonio declares his love for her, she brushes him off. Nedda then declares her love for Silvio, a villager, and agrees to elope with him that night. Tonio hears this, and brings Canio to confront the pair, but Silvio escapes and Nedda refuses to reveal his identity. 

Amidst this tension, the troupe begin their performance for the villagers. The transformation of the set is spectacular, and the presentation of the play is captivating. As the performance progresses, the line between the story and reality blurs, and Pagliacci hurtles towards its tragic climax. 

As Canio, Rafael Rojas gives a powerful, convincing portrayal of a man consumed by jealousy.

There’s glorious singing from the chorus in this production, and the inclusion of children works well, in keeping with the verismo style of both Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci. Both operas are powerful, dramatic works, which should leave you feeling shattered but uplifted—something skilfully achieved by this production, supported by spirited playing from the Vector Wellington Orchestra.
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Much to delight eye and ear

Review by John Button 30th Aug 2011

For most people, including regular opera fans, the Cav & Pag double bill is more talked about than experienced. Of course, everybody knows snippets from both – the Intermezzo from Cav and ‘Vesti la giubba’ (Put on the motley) from Pag, but very few have experienced a top professional production. My only experience was a student production – fairly excruciating – many years ago, so this utterly professional, beautifully sung and staged outing was my first chance to fully experience Mascagni and Leoncavallo’s only successes.

Described as verismo (realistic), each covers love, treachery, revenge in black and white – few subtleties here – in about an hour each, with Leoncavallo’s the more interesting plot; a simple mix of art mixed with reality, but the short first act takes a while to get going. Both are fiery operas, with straightforward, but rich, orchestral support and very important choruses. 
So these two short operas are not ‘pot boilers’ put on to make money, but an expensive, intricate, undertaking that must convince a public unfamiliar with the works to come along.

I understand that bookings are not great, so I urge any doubters to make the effort for they will be rewarded by two dazzling productions, with no weaknesses and much to delight both the ear and the eye.

Both casts are top notch. The lead sopranos in both are superb: Anna Shafajinskaia in Cav, and Elizabeth Futral in Pag are blessed with fine voices and both can act. The tenors are equally superb – Peter Auty as Turiddu in Cav has a marvellously free voice and Rafael Rojas as Canio/Pagliacci not only has a fine voice as well, but sings up a storm, with an impassioned “Vesta la giubba’, supported by a wonderful Tonio in Warwick Fyfe. All the other cast members are exceptionally fine and no praise can be too great for the marvellous chorus work, so crucial to both operas.

NBR New Zealand Opera is careful with its conductors, and in Oliver von Dohnanyi it delivers a masterstroke. He marshalled both operas with unerringly skill, and drew wonderfully committed playing from the Wellington orchestra.

All of this took place on a super clever, moveable set, common to both operas, and with the costuming completely apt – marvellously so for the play in Pag – and assisted by discreet but effective lighting, this production presents this deceptive double bill in the best possible light.

A must see. 
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