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    Verismo Met opera double bill on the big screen

    Warm up your winter blues with opera's most popular double bill: Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, which will delight opera lovers from Saturday, 23 May, at Cinema Nouveau and select Ster-Kinekor cinemas countrywide, for limited screenings.

    It's the final screening in the Met: Live in HD's current season in South Africa and what better way to drop the final curtain than with the Metropolitan Opera's first new staging of the highly popular Verismo double bill in 45 years?

    Verismo Met opera double bill on the big screen

    Cavalleria Rusticana is a story of passion and jealousy set in a rough Sicilian village, and told with the force of primal myth. The opera is based on the highly influential short story of the same name by Sicilian writer Giovanni Verga, which created a sensation with its straightforward yet evocative prose, so radically different from the flowery, dense style that had been common in Italian literature at the time. Mascagni created a musical counterpart to Verga's achievement - his score seems a direct expression of the characters' emotions without any comment or adornment on the part of its author.

    Cavalleria won first prize in a competition for one-act operas by emerging composers (Puccini was another contestant), and took the operatic world by storm at its premiere. It earned delirious praise and equally vehement antipathy and has never been out of the core repertory.

    The Verismo Movement

    Its success was crucial in launching the Verismo Movement in opera, inspiring other composers to turn to stories and characters from real life (and often from society's grungier elements). The influence of verismo reached well beyond the dozen operas that can safely be categorised as the core of the genre (perhaps most famously Puccini's La Bohème and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci).

    Pagliacci is a tale of jealousy and murder among a troupe of travelling clowns, a look at the intersection of art and life so definitive that it has in many people's minds come to represent all opera. Written hot on the heels of the success of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci consciously utilises the same verismo techniques in its musical and dramatic core and yet remains a distinct and equally powerful work of theatre.

    While Cavalleria revelled in the realism of a village whose mores were unchanged since pre-history, the drama of Pagliacci found a way to expand the narrative vision of the verismo movement: the second half of the opera is a sort of 'opera within an opera', and the frivolity of the subject of adultery in the traditional commedia dell'arte presentation of the travelling clowns becomes one of the driving forces of the climactic murder.

    By drawing this sort of a narrative frame around the on-stage action, Leoncavallo could harness all its irony, tradition, and symbolism while remaining firmly in realism, and using the artifice of theatre to emphasise, rather than obscure, the truth of human emotion.

    While the two pieces - the best-known examples of the verismo operatic genre - have different composers and unrelated storylines, they are almost always paired together in modern performance, a practice that began at the Met in 1893.The 25 April matinee performance of this new production was filmed for screening in cinemas worldwide as the final instalment in the Met's 2014-15 Live in HD season. The series now reaches more than 2000 movie theatres in 70 countries around the world.

    Directed by Sir David McVicar, who made his Met debut in 2009 with a critically acclaimed new staging of Verdi's Il Trovatore, the Cav-Pav double bill features Argentinean tenor Marcelo Álvarez making his company role debut in both leading tenor parts: the unrepentant seducer Turiddu and the clown Canio.

    Marcelo Álvarez makes his role debut as Turiddu with this production. He recently sang Canio to acclaim with the Opera de Monte Carlo. He has sung more than 110 Met performances in 12 roles, most recently the title character in Giordano's Andrea Chénier; Gustavo III in the new production of Un Ballo in Maschera; Radamès in Verdi's Aida; Cavaradossi in the new production of Puccini's Tosca; and Manrico in McVicar's new production of Il Trovatore. Next season, he will sing his first Met performances of the fearless hero Calàf in Puccini's Turandot.

    Abandoned woman

    Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek sings the role of Santuzza, the abandoned woman at the heart of Cavalleria Rusticana, and American soprano Patricia Racette is Canio's ill-fated wife Nedda in Pagliacci. George Gagnidze will also star in both operas, singing the principal baritone roles of Alfio in Cavalleria and Tonio in Pagliacci. Earlier this season, Eva-Maria Westbroek sang the title role in a critically heralded Met revival of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. The Dutch soprano made her Met debut as Sieglinde in the new production of Wagner's Die Walküre and also starred in a rare revival of Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini. Next season, she will add another role to her company repertory when she sings her first Met performances of Elisabeth in Wagner's Tannhäuser.

    Patricia Racette has sung more than 160 Met performances over the course of her 20-year career with the company, including Nedda in 2005 and 2006.Her recent roles with the company have included Maddalena in Andrea Chénier, opposite Álvarez; Madame Lidoine in Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites; the title role in Puccini's Tosca; and the leading roles in all three operas that comprise Puccini's Il Trittico: Giorgetta in Il Tabarro, the title character in Suor Angelica, and Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi. Next season, she will reprise one of her most acclaimed roles, Cio-Cio-San in Puccini's Madame Butterfly.

    Verismo Met opera double bill on the big screen

    George Gagnidze made his Met debut in 2009 in the title role of Verdi's Rigoletto, a role he repeated with the company in 2010 and 2013. His other Met performances have included Scarpia in the new production of Tosca, the title role in Macbeth, and Shaklovity in Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina. Earlier this season, he sang Amonasro in Verdi's Aida. Next season, he will reprise his Scarpia and sing Tonio in a revival of Pagliacci.

    Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi leads the double bill. Luisi made his Met debut with Verdi's Don Carlo in 2005 and has since led an eclectic repertory of 25 operas as well as five concerts with the Met Orchestra. Among his most notable performances have been Verdi's Macbeth, earlier this season; Wagner's entire Ring Cycle; a new production of Richard Strauss's rarely heard Die Ägyptische Helena; Berlioz's epic Les Troyens; and new productions of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera, Mozart's Don Giovanni, and Massenet's Manon. He also conducts four performances of Lehár's The Merry Widow at the Met this spring, with Susan Graham in the central role.

    Interview with the stars

    A major bonus of watching the magnificent Met: Live in HD opera's on the big screen, besides an opportunity to share centre stage with the singers or hearing the music in high definition, is the interviews with the stars.

    Susan Graham hosts the Cav-Pav double bill, and live backstage interviews include conversations with Marcelo Álvarez, who accomplishes the rare tenor feat of singing the leading role in both halves of the double bill; his two leading ladies, soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and Patricia Racette; and Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi.

    There's also a preview of the 2015-16 line-up of Live in HD, celebrating 10 years of the Met in cinemas next season.

    Each of The Met: Live in HD operas is a glorious production that is screened exclusively at Cinema Nouveau and select Ster-Kinekor theatres countrywide, including: Gateway Nouveau, Durban; V&A Waterfront Nouveau and Ster-Kinekor Blue Route in Cape Town; Ster-Kinekor Garden Route in George; Rosebank Nouveau and Ster-Kinekor Bedford View in Johannesburg; and at Brooklyn Nouveau, Pretoria.

    The Met: Live in HD performances of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci release on Saturday, 23 May for limited screenings until 4 June. The running time of this double bill is approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission between the two operas.

    For booking information on The Met: Live in HD season, go to or sterkinekor.mobi. You can also download the Ster-Kinekor App on any Nokia, Samsung Android, iPhone or Blackberry smart phone for updates, news and to make bookings. Follow on Twitter @nouveaubuzz and on Facebook at Cinema Nouveau. For queries, call Ticketline on 0861 Movies (668 437).

    For more opera and theatre on the big screen, go to www.writingstudio.co.za

    About Daniel Dercksen

    Daniel Dercksen has been a contributor for Lifestyle since 2012. As the driving force behind the successful independent training initiative The Writing Studio and a published film and theatre journalist of 40 years, teaching workshops in creative writing, playwriting and screenwriting throughout South Africa and internationally the past 22 years. Visit www.writingstudio.co.za
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