ANYONE wanting to see well–sung, straightforward productions of two of the most popular operas of the last 100 years should not hesitate to go to the Palma Auditorium tonight at 8pm when the second and final perfomances of the “heavenly twins” of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci are being given under the auspices of the Teatre Principal's 21st opera season. “Cav and Pag” have been with us for so long that it is easy to take them for granted and forget what minor masterpieces of strong characterisation and dramatic tension they are. It is a virtue of the production at the Auditorium that it respects these qualities and makes no attempt to add more meaning or significance to the operas than their composers Pietro Mascagni and Ruggiero Leoncallo gave them in the 1890s. So what we have are two stories of passion, deceit and death set among ordinary villagers in southern Italy. All that needs to be added to those strong foundations are committed singing by soloists and chorus, an orchestra grateful for the lovely music it has to play and a production that emphasises the main thrust of the stories.

On Friday evening at the first performance we got all of this, and more. Both these operas have many scenes in which the chorus predominates and the Teatre Principal's chorus of 70 or more voices took every opportunity to remind us that this must be one of the finest theatrical choruses in Spain and possibly in Europe. Its voices blend perfectly, its attack is precise and in addition its members add an acting dimension that was particularly effective in the final stages of Pagliacci. The Balearic Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Claudio Micheli relished its opportunities to shine in the exquisite orchestral introductions and interludes which both composers provide; as always with this orchestra, the solo instrumental work was impeccable.

Both operas were strongly cast. The baritone Giancarlo Pasquetto appeared in each, playing a rather laid–back Alfio in Cavalleria Rusticana and Tonio in Pagliacci; in the latter role he delivered the famous Prologue in front of the stage curtain with great poignancy before commanding, “Ring up the curtain”. Each opera revolves round the character of a woman tormented by love. In Cavalleria Rusticana Alessandra Rezza gave a compelling account of Santuzza, a women so consumed with jealousy that she is driven to a lie that leads to the death of the man she loves. In Pagliacci Eteri Lamoris gave a delightful and impressive account of Nedda, the “star” of the travelling theatre which performs a Columbine and Harlequin play that mirrors her own torment, torn between her husband, Canio and her lover Silvio. It is, of course, his anguish at this situation that drives Canio to the most famous number in these two operas, Vesti la giubba (On with the motley, and the paint and the powder) as he faces the need to continue to act though his heart is breaking. Nicola Martinucci sang this great tenor aria with contrasting force and pathos to great effect.

In the Auditorium production the director Ludek Golat has set both operas in the same village in what look like mid–20th century clothes, a perfectly acceptable decision.

The lovers in Cavalleria Rusticana are nearer middle–age than Mascagni's instruction that they should be “young”; again, I thought this worked very well and was typical of the sensible nature of both these productions, in which the glorious music is rightly given priority.