The Met’s new production of the popular double bill, directed by one of my favorites, David McVicar, opens tonight. The cast includes Eva-Maria Westbroek as Santuzza, Patricia Racette as Nedda, Marcelo Álvarez singing Turiddu and Canio, George Gagnidze as Alfio and Tonio, with Fabio Luisi conducting.
From the Met’s company history:
“Cavalleria” was first performed by the Met on tour in Chicago in December 1891, paired with Act I of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” “Pagliacci” followed in December 1893 at the opera house in New York, in a double bill with Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice.” The Met was the first opera company to present “Cav/Pag” together on December 22, 1893, and this combination soon became standard practice around the world, but occasional pairings with other operas were still common into the early 20th century.
“Cavalleria” and “Pagliacci” individually shared the Met stage with such diverse works as “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” “Don Pasquale,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “La Fille du Régiment,”Il Trovatore,” “Rigoletto,” “La Bohème,” and even Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Le Coq d’Or.” An unlikely double bill of “Pagliacci” and “Hansel and Gretel” was especially popular, with almost 100 performances between 1906 and 1938.
Among the notable early interpreters of the leading roles were Emma Eames, Emma Calvé, Johanna Gadski, Olive Fremstad, Emmy Destinn, and Rosa Ponselle (Santuzza), Francesco Tamagno and Enrico Caruso (Turiddu), Nellie Melba, Destinn, Lucrezia Bori, Claudia Muzio, and Queena Mario (Nedda), Caruso (more than 100 performances) and Giovanni Martinelli (Canio), and Pasquale Amato (Tonio). A new production in 1951 starred Zinka Milanov and Richard Tucker in “Cavalleria” and Delia Rigal, Ramón Vinay, and Leonard Warren in “Pagliacci.”
This was succeeded by another new staging in 1958, with Lucine Amara as Nedda, Mario Del Monaco as Canio, and Milanov and Warren reprising their roles. The following production, directed and designed by Franco Zeffirelli,
premiered in 1970 with Leonard Bernstein conducting “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Fausto Cleva conducting “Pagliacci” and a cast that included Grace Bumbry and Franco Corelli in “Cavalleria” and Amara, Richard Tucker, and Sherrill Milnes in “Pagliacci.”
Among the many other artists who have appeared in the two operas since the late 1950s are Giulietta Simionato, Eileen Farrell, Fiorenza Cossotto, and Tatiana Troyanos (Santuzza), Teresa Stratas and Diana Soviero (Nedda),
Jon Vickers, James McCracken, and Giuseppe Giacomini (Canio), and Cornell MacNeil and Juan Pons (Tonio). Tenors who have faced the challenge of taking on both leading roles include Plácido Domingo, Roberto Alagna, and José Cura.