Street scene from “Cavalleria Rusticana” (photograph by Cory Weaver, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera)
Tonight the 96th season of the San Francisco Opera will get under way with one of the most traditional double bills in the history of grand opera. Indeed, the offering is so traditional that it even has a traditional nickname, Cav/Pag), which is the abbreviation of Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” (rustic chivalry) and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” (clowns). Both of these one-act operas have solidly established themselves as representative of the verismo tradition, a movement away from the elegance of Romanticism in favor of harsher naturalist themes, usually involving the travails of the “all-too-human,” as Friedrich Nietzsche put it. Departing from popular nineteenth-century subject matter, the narratives of these operas involve illicit love, jealousy, and violent death.
The central character of “Cavalleria Rusticana” is Santuzza, sung by mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk, whose sex-before-marriage relationship with Turiddu, sung by tenor Roberto Aronica, has led to her excommunication. Meanwhile, Turiddu’s attentions have shifted to Lola, sung by mezzo Laura Krumm, who is already married to Alfio, who is sung by baritone Dimitri Platanias, making his United States debut. As one can easily guess, things do not go well for Turiddu.
While “Cavalleria Rusticana” is set in a remote Sicilian village, “Pagliacci” involves a traveling troupe of comedians. In this case the fatal relationship involves Nedda, sung by soprano Lianna Haroutounian, who is married to the group’s leading actor Canio, sung by tenor Marco Berti. Nedda wants more out of life and thinks she finds it in Silvio, sung by baritone David Pershall. Unfortunately, Tonio, sung by Platanias, not only discovers the relationship but makes sure that Canio does the same. This time it is Nedda who does not live to see the end of the opera.
Following tonight’s opening, which is sold out, Cav/Pag will be given six more performances, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. on September 12, 19, 22, and 28 and at 2 p.m. on September 16 and 30. The libretto will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. The approximate running time will be three hours with one intermission.
The War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, on the northwest corner of Grove Street. Single tickets are priced from $26 to $398. Tickets may be purchased online through an event page on the SFO Web site. Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office in the outer lobby of the Opera House. The Box Office may also be reached by telephoning 415-864-3330. Standing room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance. They are sold for $10, cash only.
Finally, because the season has not yet begun, subscriptions are still on sale. There are a wide variety of subscription alternatives, ranging from the full season to a variety of different ways to attend a fewer number of operas. All of these options are summarized on a single Web page with appropriate hyperlinks. Further options for personalizing a series offering can be discussed by calling the Box Office number given in the preceding paragraph.