Opera West sends in the clowns

Enrico Caruso in the role of Canio in Leoncavallo's 1920 Pagliacci

For decades Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci seemed to be conjoined twins, as the most popular double bill in the opera world. They were actually born two years apart, and recently impresarios have been separating them for individual performance. Such is the case with Opera West’s stand-alone Pagliacci, which opens Friday, Nov. 11 at St. Francis Auditorium.

(Opera West is not to be confused with Opera Southwest. The latter is a 50-year-old Albuquerque-based company performing an adventurous repertory. The former is a young Santa Fe organization focused, at least so far, on staging late Romantic-era pieces in more modest productions.)

Ruggero Leoncavallo’s 1892 opera concerns a love triangle within a traveling commedia dell’arte company, mirroring the plot of the play they’re performing. The married couple Nedda and Canio play the lead characters, who are also married. Just as in the play, Canio suspects Nedda of having an affair, perhaps with Tonio, another performer; when he discovers that it’s with the villager Silvio, he kills his wife and her lover mid-performance, then turns to the audience for opera’s most famous final line: “The comedy is over!”

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