The Met Streams The Documentary On It’s New Digs

By Lynne Gray, PhD

Saturday, May 9
The Opera House ~ 2 Hrs 7 Mins

A 2017 feature-length documentary film by Susan Froemke about the creation and 1966 opening of the new Met at Lincoln Center.

In this unusual documentary, award-winning filmmaker Susan Froemke explores the creation of the Metropolitan Opera’s famous new home. Drawing on rarely seen archival footage, stills, and more recent interviews, The Opera House looks at a crucial period in the Met’s history and delves into some of the untold stories of the artists, architects, and politicians who shaped the cultural life of New York City in the ’50s and ’60s – more than five decades ago now.

Among the notable figures in the film are beloved soprano Leontyne Price, who opened the new Met in 1966 starring in Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra; Rudolf Bing, the Met’s imperious General Manager who engineered the move from the old house to the new one; Robert Moses, the unstoppable city planner who bulldozed an entire neighborhood to make room for Lincoln Center; and Wallace Harrison, whose quest for architectural glory was never fully realized.

Of particular interest, the film features a soundtrack that includes some extraordinary Met performances, while it chronicles the creation of the Met’s beautiful new home against a backdrop that includes portraits of many individual contributors who shaped it.

Sunday, May 10
Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci ~ 2 Hrs 53 Mins
Cavalleria Rusticana: Starring Eva-Maria Westbroek, Marcelo Álvarez, and George Gagnidze. 
Pagliacci: Starring Patricia Racette, Marcelo Álvarez, and George Gagnidze.
Conducted by Fabio Luisi. From April 25, 2015.

This Sunday, the Met brings us director David McVicar’s production of opera’s most enduring tragic double bill, affectionately known these days simply as Cav/Pag. He has placed the two operas in the same Sicilian setting – but separated them by two generations. Rae Smith (War Horse) designed the moodily atmospheric 1900 village square setting of Cavalleria Rusticana, which transforms to a 1948 truck stop for the doomed vaudeville troupe of Pagliacci. Marcelo Álvarez takes on the rare feat of singing both leading tenor roles in the same evening. In Cavalleria, he is Turiddu, the young man who abandons Santuzza (Eva-Maria Westbroek) to pursue the married Lola (Ginger Costa-Jackson). Her husband, Alfio (George Gagnidze) is the village’s prosperous – and often absent – carter. In Pagliacci, Álvarez is Canio, the leader of a traveling vaudeville troupe. Patricia Racette sings Nedda, his restless young wife, whose plan to run away with her lover is foiled by a spurned admirer Tonio (George Gagnidze). Met Principal Conductor Fabio Luisi is on the podium.

Cavalleria Rusticana – (Rustic Chivalry)

Marcelo Álvarez is an Argentine lyric tenor whose fervent singing definitely suits the impetuous young peasant Turiddu in this most classic of Verismo operas (those that portray realism – “real” people as opposed to gods, heroes and royalty – usually at their rawest). The backstory here is that Turiddu, recently returning from service in the army, has discovered that his fiancée, the fickle Lola, married Alfio, the town’s whip-carrying cart driver, in his absence. To attract Lola again and to make her jealous, he seduces the lonely young Santuzza with promises of marriage he has no intention of keeping. Santuzza is now pregnant and dangerously compromised, but Turiddu’s plan to attract Lola’s attention has unfortunately succeeded. They have begun a dangerous, adulterous affair – much to the despair of the long suffering and now abandoned Santuzza.

That is basically the point at which the story we see in the opera begins. It is Easter Sunday and Turiddu is singing in the distance of his happiness – and his love for Lola “O Lola c’hai di latti la cammisa” (“O Lola! like the snow, pure in thy whiteness!”). Santuzza is looking for him in the square where villagers are celebrating the beautiful Spring morning “Gli aranci olezzano sui verdi margini” (“The air is sweet with orange blossoms”). She enters the wine shop of his mother, Mamma Lucia, who tells Santuzza that Turiddu is away buying wine. Santuzza, however, knows he was seen in the village during the night although she says nothing. Lola’s husband, Alfio, enters boasting of his horses – and of his beautiful wife. He asks Mamma Lucia for his favorite wine, and she also tells him that Turiddu is away buying more, to which he replies that he saw Turiddu near his own house that very morning. Santuzza quickly deflects Mamma Lucia’s questions and when Alfio leaves, pours out her heart to Lucia as they both leave for Mass.

The choir inside the church is heard singing the incredibly beautiful “Regina Coeli.” Outside, the villagers sing an Easter Hymn, “Inneggiamo, il Signor non è morto” (“We rejoice that our Saviour is living!”), joined by Santuzza, in one of the most heavenly choruses in all opera.

Because she is pregnant out of wedlock, Santuzza feels she cannot enter the church but begs Mamma Lucia to go inside and pray for her. Santuzza waits for Turiddu so she can plead with him to leave Lola and return to her. Turiddu’s harsh rejection, coupled with Lola’s mocking of her sets up the tragedy that follows. The wounded Santuzza lashes out at them by telling Alfio that his wife is unfaithful, and the culprit is Turiddu. She, of course, immediately regrets it, but the die, shall we say, is cast.

The square is empty as the orchestra plays the famous Intermezzo. The villagers come out of the church along with Turiddu who is in high spirits because he is with Lola and Santuzza appears to have gone. He invites his friends to his mother’s wine shop where he sings a lively drinking song, “Viva, il vino spumeggiante” (“Hail to the bubbling wine!”). The celebration is cut short, however, by the abrupt appearance of Alfio who challenges Turiddu to a duel. In keeping with Sicilian custom, Turiddu bites Alfio’s ear and draws blood – accepting the duel and signaling a fight to the death.

Turiddu’s farewell to Mamma Lucia “Un bacio, mamma! Un altro bacio! —Addio!” (“One kiss, mother! One more kiss! – Farewell!”), asking her to take care of Santuzza as she would a cherished daughter if he should not return is one of opera’s most lyrical and moving scenes. You’ll just have to watch it to see the – decidedly Verismo – ending. Cavalleria Rusticana is everything an opera should be – gripping human drama, gloriously beautiful music and performances that will stay with you for long after the curtain goes down. I hope you will tune in for this one.

Pagliacci (The Clowns)

Encouraged by the success Mascagni had with Cavalleria Rusticana, Leoncavallo undertook Pagliacci, which premiered two years later. The Met’s stage now transforms from Easter Sunday in late-1860s Calabria, to the Feast of the Assumption in the late-1940s at a grimy truck stop that could easily be in almost any post-war Italian village. The Met cast becomes a troupe of itinerant vaudevillians – echoing Italy’s long-lived Commedia dell’arte tradition.

For whatever reasons, the gritty Pagliacci story is more generally familiar to audiences than the tragic Cavalleria story. And while there is also a lot of wonderful music in Pagliacci, most people ignore much of the rest of the opera, focusing on the world-famous “Vesti la giubba” (“Put on the costume”) at the end of the first act – a signature aria for both Caruso and Pavarotti, among others.

The opera, itself, consists of a short prologue and two acts. It uses the play-within-a-play format (very like Hamlet a couple nights ago) except that almost all of the characters here do double duty – playing both their “real” selves and their unfortunately mirrored a bit too closely for comfort, commedia dell’arte characters. So, we have Canio, head of the troupe in “real” life and Pagliaccio (or Pierrot) in the play; Nedda, Canio’s wife in “real” life and Colombina, Pagliaccio’s wife in the play (who happens to be in love with Arlecchino (Harlequin) in the play); Beppe, a member of the troupe in “real” life, and Arlecchino, Colombina’s lover in the play; and Tonio, the final troupe member in “real” life and Taddeo, the fool (or clown) in the play, who is Colombina’s servant. Only Silvio, Nedda’s actual lover, is not a member of the troupe and so has no commedia character. The other two salient facts here are that in “real” life, Canio is both extremely volatile and extremely jealous, and Tonio secretly lusts after Nedda. Confused yet?

In the Prologue, Tonio, dressed as the clown, tells us we are about to see a true story and reminds us that actors are people too with exactly the same joys and sorrows as anyone else.

The small, traveling troupe arrives in town and does a little pre-show advertising for the evening’s performance. Afterwards a villager jokes that perhaps Tonio is pursuing Canio’s wife Nedda in real life. Canio flies off the handle and warns everyone present that he will never tolerate any real-life flirting with Nedda – theatre and life are not the same he insists. Everyone then goes off to the tavern for ‘refreshment’ before the performance, except for Nedda who is frightened by Canio’s anger and vehemence. She is briefly calmed by sounds of birds singing, and in her famous aria “Stridono lassù” envies their freedom. Tonio returns and attempts to force himself on her. She fights him off, but her angry rejection causes him to threaten revenge.

Since we already know this is a tragedy, it only remains for us to learn how the threatened revenge actually takes place – first in “real” life when Tonio spies on Nedda and her “real” lover and tells Canio, and then finally in the play – where despite Canio’s original claim that theatre and life are not the same, he completely loses sight of the boundary with disastrous consequences. Mother’s Day might not be the best of all possible days for this double bill of tragedy, but remember, you can watch it most of the day on Monday as well.

Picture Credits

1.              The Opera House, DVD Cover. Photo Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.

2.              Lincoln Center. Photo Credit… The Metropolitan Opera.

3.              Marcelo Álvarez as Canio and as Turiddu in the Met’s 2015 Cav/Pag. Photo Credit… Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

4.              Eva-Maria Westbroek as Santuzza in Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ at the Met. Photo Credit… Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

5.             Ginger Costa-Jackson as Lola, Turiddu’s lover and Santuzza’s rival in Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ at the Met. Photo Credit… Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

6.              Lola (Ginger Costa-Jackson) and Turiddu (Marcelo Álvarez) drink to each other in the Met’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana.’ Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

7.              Marcelo Álvarez as Turiddu, with Jane Bunnell’s Mamma Lucia in Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ at the Met. Photo Credit… Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

8.             Nedda (Patricia Racette) and Canio (Marcelo Álvarez) hawk their comedy show on wheels in Leoncavallo’s ‘Pagliacci’ at the Met. Photo Credit… Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera.

9. Nedda (Patricia Racette) whips up a comic fuss (with Marty Keiser, Joshua Wynter, and Andy Sapora) in Leoncavallo’s ‘Pagliacci’ at the Met. Photo Credit…Sara Krulwich / The New York Times.

10.             Marcelo Álvarez as Canio in Leoncavallo’s ‘Pagliacci’ at the Met. Photo Credit… Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera.

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