Pagliacci / Cavalleria rusticana – Premieres on June 15 and 17, 2023 at the State Opera

Premieres on June 15 and 17, 2023 at the State Opera

Pagliacci / Cavalleria rusticana

Ruggero Leoncavallo, Pietro Mascagni


State Opera Chorus
State Opera Orchestra
National Theatre Opera Ballet
Pupils of the Olga Kyndlová Ballet School

For over 130 years, Pagliacci (Clowns) and Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry), the most famous operas of Italian verismo, a genre that brought to the stage contemporary characters, portraying the life of country folk and low social classes, have been extremely popular among audiences all over the world as magnificent dramatic spectacles featuring impressive chorus scenes, prepossessing arias and ensembles, as well as Mascagni’s beautiful symphonic intermezzo. When, in 1888, the Italian music publisher Edoardo Sonzogno announced a competition for young composers to submit a one-act opera, he could not have had the slightest inkling that the victorious work would become an immortal hit. The 25-year-old Pietro Mascagni sent to the jury his brand-new piece Cavalleria rusticana.  The premiere of the opera, in 1890 in Rome, was a resounding success, which would secure him global fame. Ruggero Leoncavallo, six years older than Mascagni, wrote his debut opera, Pagliacci, in the verismo spirit too. Its premiere, in 1892 in Milan, earned the virtually unknown composer great acclaim. In 1893, Rome saw Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci performed as a double bill, which has ever since been customary worldwide. Pagliaccidepicts the tragedy of Canio, an ageing principal of a travelling troupe who, driven out of his mind with jealousy, kills his unfaithful young wife Nedda and her lover on stage during a performance. In Cavalleria rusticana, the frivolous Lola begins an adulterous affair with her former lover Turridu, who, in line with the age-long Sicilian vendetta tradition, is murdered by Lola’s husband. The two operas end identically – with a homicide motivated by jealousy. The new production pairing the two operatic gems has been undertaken by Ondřej Havelka, a versatile artist, renowned as a stage director, actor, singer and musician alike.

The two most popular operas of Italian verism will be performed in one evening: the operas Komedianti and Sedlák kavalír are directed by Ondřej Havelka at the State Opera in Prague, choosing the opposite of the traditional order. However, he is not the first to take this step. The premiere of the first cast is already taking place today from 7:00 p.m.


Ruggero Leoncavallo’s opera The Comedians and Pietro Mascagni ‘s The Peasant Cavalier are among the most popular titles in opera history. Both are also the most typical examples of opera verism. ” Jealousy and murder were the most frequently represented themes in veristic operas ,” says Opera dramaturg Jitka Slavíková . “The Comedians is the tragedy of the aging itinerant actor Canio, who learns from his colleague, the bitter schemer Toni, about the infidelity of his young, charming wife, Nedda, and kills Nedda and his son directly during the performance. 


The musical staging was undertaken by the music director of the State Opera, Andrij Jurkevyč , who believes that the power of these works will touch everyone’s heart even after more than 130 years since their creation: ” It is very fresh and modern music, at the same time melodic and orchestral as well as singing parts they are very intense and emotional. 

In the repertoire of the world’s theaters, they were adopted as a double title; both are staged on the same evening. Director Ondřej Havelka overturns the practice, when The Peasant Cavalier takes place first , followed by Comedians , and explains his reasons: “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. 


The dramaturg of the opera, Jitka Slavíková, adds: ” The order of both operas in one evening – the first Sedlák kavalír and, after the break, the Comedians – is traditional, but not unchanging! After all, our performance has the same sequence as, for example, the New York Metropolitan Opera chose already in 1893. However, both operas were performed in various combinations, sometimes bizarre, such as The Peasant Cavalier with the third act of Twilight of the Gods or the Comedians with the second act of Lohengrin. There is even evidence of a combination of Bedřich Smetana’s Comedians with Hubicka – at the Vienna Court Opera in 1894. “

In addition to choreographer Jana Hanušová, mime Jiří Bilbo Reindinger helps the new production with movement cooperation , especially in the opera Komedianti . ” The performance performed by the comedians in the second act of the opera should be really funny and entertaining. It will be all the more shocking when the cheerful, somewhat naive clowning results in a terrifying tragedy. ” adds Havelka.


The main roles alternate in Comedians Jan Siber  / Yukiko Kinjo (Nedda), Denys Pivnickij / Michal Lehotský (Canio), Daniel Scofield / Daniel Čapkovič (Tonio), Csaba Kotlár / Daniel Kfelíř (Silvio) and Petr Nekoranec / Daniel Matoušek (Peppe).

Ester Pavlů / Viktorija Korosunova (Santuzza), Alejandro del Angel / Peter Berger (Turiddu), Michaela Zajmi / Alena Kropáčková (Lola) and Daniel Scofield / Daniel Čapkovič (Tonio–Alfio) took on the main roles in Sedlák kavalíro .


Photo: Jan Hromádko