Mascagnis blockbuster Cavalleria Rusticana is very frequently coupled with I Pagliacci, to create the combination contemptuously known as Cav and Pag, and the Teatro dellOperas decision to resurrect the composers piece written to accompany the silent film Rapsodia Satanica, dating to 1917, is original and highly successful.

The plot of the film, whose protagonist is the silent-screen diva Lyda Borelli, is a rather silly Mephistopelian tale of an elderly aristocratic beauty who is restored to her former youth on the condition she never falls in love. But she does with tragic consequences, and is then restored back to old age, with more tragic consequences. The Italian film company, Cines, planned a series of silent films to be accompanied by a proper orchestra rather than just a piano, and Mascagni received a handsome commission to do so for the Rapsodia Satanica, rising to considerable heights of inspiration. The evening starts therefore with a projection of this recently restored film, accompanied by Mascagnis music played most forcefully by the Opera House orchestra under the expert hands of Marcello Panni. It serves as very agreeable hors doeuvre to the banquet of raw passion and tears to follow in Cavalleria Rusticana.

The production of the opera, rather traditional, is by Stefano Vizioli and lets the unfolding tragedy speak for itself with economy of gesture; the plot and music are so highly dramatic that this is more than sufficient. The set, by Maurizio Varami and drawn from designs by Renato Guttuso, is also simple and effective - rural Sicily conveyed with just a couple of stylized citrus trees and the ruined pediment and columns of a Greek temple; also quite enough.

The orchestra was in excellent form and Panni guided them through the highly-coloured score with great finesse, bringing out all the essential lyricism and expressiveness of the vocal and orchestral writing. The famous intermezzo was very beautiful indeed, full of tragic foreboding and justly given a tremendous ovation.

The singing too was of a very high level.

Lucia Mazzaria as the nave and tragic Santuzza is really superb; her voice is powerful and dramatic, but at the same time beautiful, and her acting skills are very considerable too. A wonderful performance.

The Turiddu of Giuseppe Giacomini was devilishly dashing in appearance and voice; it was easy to understand the devastation he had caused in the heart of Santuzza and why Lola was so keen to carry on with him in spite of the manifest dangers of such behaviour.

Ambrogio Maestri sang Alfio with great authority and fine ringing tones; he also acted well and making it unequivocally clear that he was not someone to cross.

The Lola of Alessandra Franceschi conveyed well in voice and action the coquetry and cruelty of the part, and the Mama Lucia of Viorica Cortez was very moving in the face of inevitable and mounting tragedy.

Teatro dellOpera di Roma, Piazza Beniamino Gigli 1, Rome

Tel. 06 481601 www.opera.roma.it

Further performances 20, 23 March 2005

www.john-fort.com