I’ve often thought it would be very fruitful to write director’s notes after the rehearsal process, when the backstage stories and the cast of characters have just flowered into all the art amid the chaos that must transpire behind the scenes... Before you, the audience, arrive.
In a sense, you are aware of that secret process, as in Pagliacci's play within a play: The watchers sense what the actor is thinking.
What lies in the space between reality and illusion, and how does the actor lose himself in a part, merging and developing another facet, even another full persona? Divining those mysteries by experiencing that metamorphosis is the truth that is strived for. And the birth of verismo contributed to this phase of the modern theater.
Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, opera’s most famous twins, ignited a revolution. When first composed and performed in 1890 and 1892 respectively, they created a furor of excitement, ushered in a new age of modernity and changed the direction of Italian opera. This verismo or “truth” style replaced the old protagonists of gods, kings, and heroes with the common man and his real-life dramas.
Cav-Pag, as it is affectionately been called since they were first paired in 1903, not only founded verismo, but holds the bar high in terms of the most passionate and high-voltage emotional conflicts presented in opera.
It is interesting to note that there are essentially two traditional periods in which Cavalleria and Pagliacci are usually set: one is the period of their composition and the other is the 1930s. We have chosen the traditional 1930s setting, as it was a time of tremendous growth and ferment in Italy, with World War II brewing and the Mafiosi gaining power. This Godfather era resonates powerfully with the images and conflicts of Cav-Pag. As in Fellini’s La Strada, we see the mix of the ancient elements and birth of the modern world—a World War II motorcycle mixed with medieval customs and laws. We see that, no matter what the birth struggle of a new time might be, the old order holds. Even the commedia dell’arte play we present in Pagliacci is built from the ancient sources and drawings. Each lazzi, or trick and joke, is historical and has played for hundreds of years.