Comedians in front of the Sedlák Cavalier at the State Opera unconventionally and traditionally

Author: Josef Zedník

“The handwriting of Havelka himself was also evident in the situational comedy humorously complementing the actor’s actions.”

“Jana Sibera portrayed her Nedda very convincingly. If opera is said to be only about singing, Sibera clearly refutes this fallacy.”

“When the tenor Petr Nekoranec started, I was not a fan of him, I admit. However, he is vocally moving towards a much more interesting, fuller color and volume. He filled the theater perfectly with his tone.”


On Thursday, June 15, the State Opera offered the first premiere of a pair of verist operas by Ruggero Leoncavallo and Pietro Mascagni, The Comedians ( I Pagliacci ) and The Peasant Cavalier ( Cavalleria rusticana ), in an unconventional order. However, the overall rendering of the works was traditional, and this is a big plus of both productions, which were connected by a black-and-white projection explaining the intention of director Ondřej Havelka. The performances are excellent, but the order of the operas did not convince me.

The musical staging was undertaken by the music director of the State Opera, Andrij Jurkevyč , who, with minor exceptions, “tightened” the operatic diptych in full effort. He chose good tempos, did not overburden the singers and neither did the choir, which under the leadership of Adolfo Melichar presented itself on two qualitative levels. The beautiful scenes of both operas, referring to the Italian countryside, comedian maringotkas, modest houses and sacred buildings, are the work of Martin Černý . He made excellent use of the space of the large stage of the State Opera, his scenes with lighting by Pavel Dautovský and costumes by Jana Zbořilová were a feast for the eyes. Jana Hanušová and Jiří Bilbo Reidinger collaborated with the artists in terms of movement . The ones with the directorOndřej Havelka and the artists put on a great spectacle, especially in Komediante , specifically during the scene where itinerant actors play theater in the style of commedia dell’arte (mainly Nedda played by Jana Sibera ), and also their intentions were perfectly captured by tenor Petr Nekoranec as Peppe and Harlequin . The handwriting of Havelka himself was also evident in the situational comedy humorously supplementing the actor’s actions.


The characters of the first cast in the Comedians were played by Jan Siber as Nedda, Denys Pivnickij as Canio, Daniel Scofield as Tonio, Csaba Kotlár as Silvio, Petr Nekoranec as Peppe, and the solos of the villagers belonged to Tomáš Bartůňek and Zdeňko Haas .

Jana Sibera portrayed her Nedda very convincingly. If opera is said to be only about singing, Sibera clearly refutes this fallacy. Even smaller characters, they can fill the theater with gestures and facial expressions, partly also with their striking eyes. She certainly did not disappoint as a singer, her Nedda sounded in all positions and the emotional-singing level was at a high level. This role is certainly one of the milestones of her career. Denys Pivnický’s Canio is the standard, engaging as an actor, less so in terms of singing and the color of his voice. From a character like Cania, I expect a firm, metallic voice that almost deafens the viewer with his angry emotions. Pivnicki is not that type of tenorist, and unfortunately I noticed a lot of intonation insecurities. Tonio played by Daniel Scofieldis a safe bet. At first he was perhaps not completely “warmed up”, but during the evening he performed his art very well both as an actor and as a singer. He also played Alfio in the second opera of the evening, which I will get to later. Csaba Kotlár in the role of Silvio gave an uncertain performance . Her voice is beautiful, but I lacked emotion. On the other hand, Petr Nekoranec was great , whose voice is maturing, a joy to hear! He is very gifted in movement, he jumped, did somersaults (joy to see!) and sang his song about Colombina from the roof of the maringotka. I wasn’t exactly a fan of this tenor when he first started, I admit. But he is vocally moving towards a far more interesting, fuller color and volume. He filled the theater perfectly with his tone. I was very pleased with his performance.


Both operas are interspersed with an impressive black-and-white video projection by Diviš Marko explaining the plot. In the Comedians, for example, it is the story of how Canio met little Nedda, whom he adopted and then married. The silent videos in the interludes feature the real protagonists of both operas and it must be said that they are very interesting and impressive in terms of direction and acting. And it is the shot that connects the two works after the break that explains the director’s intention to reverse the traditional order of the operas: “I was attracted by the idea of ​​connecting the two operas. That’s why I decided to reverse the order. So both stories will take place in one and the same village, and the connecting element will be a character who has a crucial role for the plot and outcome of both stories: Tonio. When Canio kills his wife Nedda and her lover Silvio in front of the village audience, Tonio realizes with horror that he was the one who provoked the whole tragedy and flees. He finds refuge in the very village in front of which the story of the nomadic acting company took place. There, thanks to his cleverness and not always correct behavior, he almost turns from a beggar into one of the most important personalities of the village. In our production, Mascagni’s Alfio becomes Tonio. 

As I already mentioned, Tonia (Alfia) was also portrayed by Daniel Scofield in Sedlák kavalier . Ester Pavlů introduced herself as Santuzza , Alejandro Del Angel represented Turidduo, Lola then Michaela Zajmi and Lucia Sylva Čmugrová .


I would start with choral ascents, which are very popular in Sedlák Cavalier . In the Comedians they are more “plot”, in the second opera they are more static, especially the big Regina Coeli chorus scene . The Choir of the State Opera gave a decent performance in both operas, but in the Comedians the viewer focuses mainly on the main characters. Although in the second production the choristers filled the theater with a powerful sound (the first qualitative level, which I wrote about at the beginning), they did not sound compact and the sopranos did not sing firmly enough, they seemed somewhat tired and the voices of the individual members stood out (the second level). This was sometimes manifested even in the tenor group. In any case, the choir received immediate applause and the audience appreciated it even at the thank-you ceremony.

The opera itself opens with the song Turiddua. From the very first notes of Alejandro Del Angel , it was clear that the audience had met an exceptional singer. The tenor has a beautiful colorful voice, the sufficient volume allowed him to express strong emotions. Ester Pavlů’s Santuzza was not as strong an experience for me as when I last saw her role in  Carmenat the National Theatre. Santuzza’s tessitura is higher and Ester Pavlů had to “slimen” her voice because of it. However, in some places the pleasant color of her voice disappeared and she did not hold the exposed higher notes long enough, ending them a coma earlier than the audience’s ear would have liked. Concentration on singing and technical mastery of the role was a priority for the singer, which was evident at the acting event. It’s clear that Ester Pavlů is an excellent singer, I think her Santuzza just came a little earlier than it should have.


Daniel Scofield, as I already indicated, gave a convincing performance, together with Del Angelo were the “driving forces” of Sedlák kavalír . Sylva Čmugrová performed her role as Lucie’s mother with her still youthful-sounding voice. It was not a suitable choice for this role, even though Čmugrová is an excellent performer. And to Michaela Zajmi : She sings great! It is another excellent phenomenon of our theaters.

The ending of the opera Sedlák kavalír is not as exciting as that of the Comedians , musically or in terms of drama. Despite Havelk’s intention to use the film to explain the confusion of the order of the operas, I believe that the idea missed the mark. Even so, I can definitely recommend the double performance of the Comedians and the Sedlák kavalír . Worth it.


Photo: National Theater Prague / Jan Hromádko