An "astonishing" Bryan Hymel in the Royal Opera's double bill
I always find Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci to be an unfair pairing: Pagliacci upstages Rusticana in basically every way. The story is considerably better, more interesting, better paced and more complex. The music has the same imbalance: Pagliacci's score is infinitely more varied and detailed, full of beauty and emotion that Rusticana never quite reaches. I appreciate that's not an opinion everyone shares, but every time I see a production of the pair, I'm bored by Rusticana and then absolutely floored by Pagliacci.
Last night at the Royal Opera House, I have to say that any boredom I experienced in Rusticana was purely due to the faults in the show itself - the production was superbly executed. The staging and set were brilliant, keeping the drama flowing through the long interludes.
The singing, in particular, was phenomenal. Elīna Garanča was nothing short of flawless as Santuzza. Her voice was warm, with a steely edge and full of raw emotional power. She made everything she could have out of the character, singing with true beauty and mastery. Opposite her, Bryan Hymel sang a stunning Turiddu. His voice was effortless and bright and he took the stage with a fiery passion. Both Lola and her husband Alfie, sung by Martina Belli and Mark S. Doss sang beautifully as well. I was also delighted with Elena Zilio as the mother - a masterful performance of a complex character and emotionally charged music from an experienced performer.
Both shows worked off the same set framework, and happened in the same world. I loved the gritty, 20th-century setting of the scenes. It gave a certain rawness to the emotions in these highly charged shows.
This Pagliacci was something to be reckoned with - the staging is terribly clever, pulling you into the drama and the swift decline of Canio's own mental health. The rotating stage transformed from Rusticana into something new - a town hall ready to host travelling performers.
Carmen Giannattasio as Nedda astonished me from the beginning with her beautiful first aria. She continued to be extraordinary for the entire performance, navigating the nuances of the character with ease and vocal brilliance. Simon Keenlyside sang wonderfully as Tonio/Taddeo though I would have liked a little more despicableness from his character.
But the real star of this performance was Brian Hymel, returning to the stage to sing Canio again, standing in for Fabio Sartori. He was truly spectacular, both vocally and dramatically. His "Vesti la giubba" was truly astonishing, a feat of great finesse and passion.
Overall, a wonderful evening with some of the most accomplished singers on stage today.
Cavalleria rusticana/Pagliacci is onstage through January 13. For details and ticket information, follow our box office links below.
Catch this classic double bill of Italian opera in The Royal Opera’s Olivier Award-winning production, with Daniel Oren conducting two excellent casts.