Cavalleria Rusticana by Karolina Sofulak

Young Polish director makes Opera North debut with daring adaptation of classic opera


27 September - 21 October
Opera North Grand Theatre,
46 New Briggate
Leeds LS1 6NU
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26-28 October
Hull New Theatre
Kingston Square
Hull HU1 3HF
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1-4 November
Theatre Royal Nottingham
Theatre Square
Nottingham NG1 5ND
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8-11 November
Theatre Royal Newcastle
100 Grey Street
Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6BR
BOOK TICKETS ONLINE or call 0844 811 2121

15-18 November
The Lowry
Pier 8, The Quays
Salford M50 3AZ
BOOK TICKETS ONLINE or call 0843 208 6000

Young Polish director Karolina Sofulak makes her Opera North debut at Leeds Grand Theatre on Wednesday 27 September with an innovative new production of Cavalleria rusticana, set in her home country in the late-1970s.

A red-blooded tale of wine, passion, jealousy and violence, Pietro Mascagni’s 1890 opera is usually thought of as quintessentially Italian, a classic of the nineteenth century verismo (realist) genre. In more recent times its beautiful intermezzo has cropped up over the hypnotic opening sequence of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, and the iconic closing montage of The Godfather III. 

Originally set in a Sicilian village at Eastertime, Cavalleria rusticana tells the story of Turiddù, who has returned from military service to find that his fiancée Lola has married another man. In revenge, he seduces Santuzza, another young woman in the village, and the scene is set for a bloody chain of retribution.

Sofulak’s unusual new setting is partly inspired by great Polish cinema – she names Krzysztof Kieślowski, “especially the Dekalog”, as an influence, and more surprisingly, the cult comedies of Stanisław Bareja: “The dry, deadpan humour and brilliant way he captured the society of the time has stayed with me ever since I watched his films in my early childhood”, she says.

“But generally Cavalleria Rusticana is not really inspired by any particular film or story - it is going to be a rather personal show for me. I've been drawing on my own experiences and my family's experiences of growing up in an intensely Catholic and economically deprived country - where everyday hardships make people turn towards the dreaminess of religion, make them filter and channel their desires and frustrations through obsessive faith.

“Poland is a deeply religious country which was occupied for centuries by various foreign powers, and in this respect it's very similar to post-Risorgimento Sicily, the original setting of Cavalleria rusticana.

“I chose the late-1970s as my setting, because I find that Communist reality of the time shared the lack of perspectives and general sense of desperation felt in Cavalleria. People were particularly mistrustful of the state then, and they tended to try and solve their differences without recourse to the police, especially in rural areas. Catholicism was of utmost importance, as it was considered dissident by the regime”.

“Preparing Cavalleria involved a lot of research – I ended up with a huge folder of archival photos from the communist times of the People’s Republic of Poland. Every time I would show them to someone and explain the things they contained it struck me how huge the cultural gap is between the West and the countries which have experienced communism first hand. Some of the stories I told about everyday hardships under the regime, about propaganda and provocations, about the empty shop shelves, about the total and utter surrealism of some situations, which were really hard to believe for my colleagues.

“Slowly but surely, the characters started merging with my own family members – Mamma Lucia is inspired by my grandmother Lucyna, who ran a shop all her life and who was a very powerful and formidable force in my father’s life, the way Mamma Lucia is in Turiddù’s.”

The production is part of Opera North’s Autumn season of The Little Greats, six operas that each compress the power and emotion of the art form into a length of around an hour. Cavalleria rusticana will be performed with its customary partner in a double bill, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci – another short, brutal verismo classic. During the opening run in Leeds, though, there will also be a chance to see it in some unusual and inspired pairings: with Gilbert & Sullivan’s witty farce Trial by Jury, Janáček’s incandescent rarity Osud, and Bernstein’s jazzy 1950s satire on the American Dream, Trouble in Tahiti.

Having studied Opera and Musical Theatre Direction in Kraków and Comparative Literature at the University of Warsaw, Karolina Sofulak began her career as an assistant director at the Polish National Opera in Warsaw. She has since worked with major opera companies throughout mainland Europe and the UK, and as assistant director on Opera North productions including Britten’s Peter Grimes and Bellini’s Norma. In the UK she has directed Monteverdi’s Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda for the London Festival of Baroque Music and Rameau’s Pigmalion for the Stroud Green Festival in London, soon to appear at the Brighton Early Music Festival.

Cavalleria rusticana opens at Leeds Grand Theatre on Wednesday 27 September, before touring to Hull New Theatre, Theatre Royal Nottingham, Theatre Royal Newcastle and The Lowry, Salford Quays.

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