On Saturday 25 April, as part of regular transmissions of the Metropolitan Opera's gems, the Cairo Opera House will fuse two operas – Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci – into one production.
Cavalleria is a one act opera by Pietro Mascagni (1863 – 1945) adapted from a play and short story written by Giovanni Verga.
Pagliacci, in its turn, is an opera in a prologue and two acts, with music and libretto by Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857 – 1919), the only operatic work by the composer.
Both operas look into the Sicilian life of common people and with Pagliacci being inspired by Cavalleria, it has become a common practice to stage both works as a double-bill. In fact, it was Met Opera which paired the two works back in 1895, setting a trend that is often followed worldwide.
Sir David McVicar, the Met production director found many interesting challenges in the double-bill procedures.
"Coming to consider a production, studying the scores, listening to the opus, getting to know them better than I thought I did, I was struck by how different they are and that led me to think that how often they are treated in a very generic way, almost as if they are two pieces by the same composer," McVicar says in a promo video released by the Metropolitan.
He continues to point out how different the two composers are and how they work in "quite different styles. The music in each piece requires a different visual response."
"Cavalleria is a very backward-looking, romantic work. It demands something very dark, stylised, heavy with religion, heavy with attitudes with the enclosed society. Pagliacci is almost like a soap opera with drama and conversation. It moves quickly, it needs colour, vibrancy, light, because it's about actors, clowns who are maybe suffering but they are presenting a show. Usually the play staged within Pagliacci is never performed as funny. I wanted to turn it slapstick. By making the performance of comedy palpably funny, you underline the agony that's raging beneath the surface," McVicar explains.
The challenge was to find a scenic envelope that could tell both stories. The director decided to set Cavalleria in the 19th century society, while with Pagliacci he moved towards the post WWII realities.
"The atmospheric 1900 village square setting of Cavalleria, transforms to a 1948 truck stop for the doomed vaudeville troupe of Pagliacci," we read at Met Opera's website.
Tenor Marcelo Álvarez will perform two roles, of Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana and Canio in Pagliacci, a feat that McVicar calls "Herculean."
He will be joined by Eva-Maria Westbroek in Cavalleria and Patricia Racette in Pagliacci.
The set design for the whole production was created by Rae Smith. The Metropolitan orchestra will be conducted by Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi.
The Metropolitan Opera was founded by a handful of New York millionaires in 1880 and ever since has proved to be among the world's most ambitious opera venues, attracting the best performers and presenting the finest repertoire to its audience.
The Metropolitan Opera launched high definition transmissions of their operas in December 2006. The practice became very popular, gaining a total of almost one million viewers worldwide in its second season. In October 2010, Egypt joined the international network of Met Opera live transmissions, received with great appreciation amongst Egyptian audiences.
Saturday 25 April, 7.30pm
Cairo Opera House small hall, Zamalek, Cairo