New Camerata Opera, 2021


PIETRO MASCAGNI’S CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, written a mere two years apart, are paradigmatic of the verismo style. The popular tradition of playing these two works as a double bill took hold in 1893, when the Metropolitan Opera presented Cav and Pag in a single evening. In September, New Camerata Opera took innovation one step higher by presenting four performances of Cav + Pag, an innovative adaptation of the two operas into one complete ninety-minute work. The performances occurred in The Muse, a former warehouse in Bushwick, Brooklyn, now repurposed as a performance space (seen Sept. 25). Stage director John de los Santos convincingly interspersed scenes from the two operas into a combined drama. The crosspollination of works was deep: the artistic team also occasionally swapped lines and music from one opera to another. The work was remarkably successful, creating something new from something old, and demonstrated how seamlessly these operas fit together stylistically and musically.

The creative team set Cav + Pag in the Poggioreale, Sicily, just after the Belice Earthquake of 1968 that demolished the town. All of the characters are either townspeople or members of an itinerant commedia dell’arte troupe passing through. The cast was absolutely splendid. As Santuzza, Indira Mahajan commanded the stage in a riveting performance: Santuzza’s grief and despair were so palpable that Mahajan brought tears to one’s eyes. Chris Carr gave an equally powerful, dramatic performance as Canio, managing to make sympathetic a character many find hard to like. Cav + Pag could and should be performed in many, many venues large and small. And the better one knows the original works, the more fun this adaptation is to experience.


We confess we had our trepidations about traveling to the depths of Brooklyn to see a mashup of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. These two operas are most often presented in a double bill, an evening which we have always found satisfying. Both operas take place in small Italian villages and give us a glimpse of what life was like in the late 19th century. Both deal with similar themes of adultery and its consequences in the lives of ordinary people. But how to combine them is the question.

We imagine it took a great deal of effort on the part of Director John de los Santos, Music Director Samuel McCoy, and Dramaturg Cori Ellison to weave the two stories into a seamless whole.  The effort paid off and we were rewarded with a gripping evening of entertainment without any spoon-feeding to force us into seeing parallels with current social mores; we are left to do our own thinking about the consequences of our behavior.

The director set the story in a small Sicilian village called Poggioreale following the devastating earthquake of 1968. The stage is littered with debris and the citizens are cleaning up the mess. Of course, this cannot fail to remind us of the upheaval in our own lives caused by Covid. It is tempting to think that chaos contributes to peoples’ bad behavior. We leave this to you, dear reader, to decide for yourselves.

John de los Santos kept the action moving at a lively clip. A bit of comic relief is always welcome in a tragedy and the rubber chicken that Columbine was about to cook found its way into Tonio’s pants in a maneuver that we have never seen before. He utilized the aisles as well as the stage giving the audience a surround sound experience.