A Glimpse into the Horn I Book of the Duo Operas ‘Cav and Pag’


For the first production of the 2011-2012 Arizona Opera season, I am bumping up from third to principal horn on a pairing of two operas:  Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

This is a traditional pairing that gives a principal horn lots to do and today I will feature a few interesting passages and highlights.

The dynamic duo

Since 1893, “Cav and Pag” – as they are called – have been paired together, exemplifying the Italian verismo style. The two operas are approximately the same length and have similar structures of intensely dramatic scenes interspersed with lush orchestral intermezzos.

Their plots center around raw emotions played out among common people. Brutal violence ends with tragic murder in both sagas.

A three-hour show

The current timing for the Arizona Opera production is around three hours (not including the 30-minute intermission). I have no assistant and so the challenge for myself as a principal horn is more-or-less an endurance test.

While the task is not as Herculean as performing one of the later Ring operas, it comes fairly close. It boils down to playing straight for 90 minutes, resting for about 30, then playing full steam once again for another 90 minutes.

I will definitely be keeping these survival tips in mind.

The opening to Pag

Beginning with Paglicacci, the horns exchange fanfares with other sections of the orchestra.

* * *

These fanfare figures wind down to a point where the entire orchestra drops out. A lone, solo horn plays a few held notes. At the Largo Assai in the example below, an unaccompanied horn quartet is featured. The first horn carries the famous tune that will occur later in the opera under more tragic circumstances.

These examples typify the part – there is lots to play and there are no long tacets or rests as in some other operas.

A sample from Cav

The writing in Cavalleria Rusticana is equally busy. In terms of orchestration it feels almost like a band composition; I suppose that this is part of what gives it its flavor and charm.

This sample below is one of the trickier passages (the tempo is one beat per measure at an Allegro tempo). The dynamic begins at a mezzo-forte and gets up to a bold forte by rehearsal number 4.

If I were in charge of an audition committee, this passage would be a prime candidate for excerpt material.


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