Cav and Pag

Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci are not only a commonly coupled pair of operas but pretty much define the genre we call verismo.  It’s a curious genre in a lot of ways.  Musically it defines a style, brought to its highest state by Puccini, that is a sort of Fukuyama-esque “end of opera” after which everything is, for a section of the opera audience, modern, inaccessible and frightening.  It’s also dramatically an attempt to get away from stories from myth and history and root the drama in “stories of everyday folk”.  Which is fine, I suppose, if one believes the only things “everyday folk” care about are female constancy and the more pagan end of Catholicism for these stories tend to be a touch unsubtle; “she done him wrong so he killed her” (and her dog and he probably crashed her truck too).  It’s actually quite ironic that Puccini, held up as the arch exponent of verismo, rarely actually goes down this path.  Il Tabarro perhaps, maybe Suor Angelica, at a stretch Tosca but in large part his material is drawn from the usual well of opera plots.  So Cav and Pag is interesting as almost pure verismo.

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