When a young composer who had never had an opera of his own performed became a finalist in a competition through a work entitled “Cavalleria Rusticana,” he probably never expected the wild success his tale of marital betrayal and lush music would receive.
Pietro Mascagni probably also never anticipated that his short opera would frequently become paired in productions with “Pagliacci,” for its similar plot, known for short as “Cav-Pag.”
So it went for many years. Lately though, opera companies perform “Pagliacci” independently more and more, and “Cavalleria” has found other partners.
In the season opener of the Maryland Lyric Opera (MDLO), another short opera with an adulterous theme will be paired with “Cavalleria”, both performed in concert version. That is Italian composer Giacomo Puccini’s “Il Tabarro,” which, in turn, was usually performed with two other short operas by the same composer better known for full-length works such as “La Boheme” and “Tosca.”
The newest company on the operatic block in Montgomery County, MDLO began after it was founded by Brad Clark, a native of Bethesda with degrees in music. The company had its first performances in 2014.
This season, the company will offer seven different productions, with six performances at The Music Center at Strathmore and five at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
The company presents both concert versions and fully staged operas, as well as concerts with guest artists playing alongside the MDLO Orchestra.
Two years ago, Louis Salemno joined the company as music director and has recruited singers from all over the world, said General Manager Matthew Woorman.
Previously, Salemno conducted operas on a freelance basis and spent 15 years as resident coach at the Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program.
“I thought that was the end of my third-act career,” said Salemno. “Then along came the MDLO.”
You could say he began his career at the age of 15, when, as a student of famed pianist Nadia Boulanger, he was invited by the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra to conduct Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.
“It was an amazing experience,” Salemno said. “It was my first official appointment.”
The unusual combination of “Cavalleria” and “Il Tabarro” inspired by singer Susan Bullock, who Salemno calls such a “phenomenal performer, a diva,” who appears in one performance of the two operas as Santuzza, the rejected wife, and as Giorgettta, the cheating wife.
The singer alternating in the roles is Jill Gardner.
Mascagni might also have been surprised by the ultimate casting of the two women in his “Cavaralleria.” He originally called for Lola, Turiddu’s mistress, to be a mezzo, and Santuzza to be a soprano.
“Mascagni wanted a vulnerability in Santuzza, but she has to be able to live in the lower range,” Gardner said. “This suits me as I’ve gotten into more-dramatic roles.”
Gardner, whose husband, Jake, is also singing in “Il Tabarro,” is performing for the second time at MDLO. The first time, she worked three days before performances of “A Fanciulla del West,” another Puccini opera.
“Sometimes, being called last minute can be unnerving,” she said. “But I love the character of Mimi. It was my third time around. And I knew the role so well.”
It also helped that Salemno knew the role so well.
“We were two peas in a pod,” she said.
Well aware that MDLO is not the only opera company in the county, let alone the area, Salemno commented: “The more the better.”
The double billing of “Il Tabarro” and “Cavalleria Rusticana” in concert takes place Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 15 at 2 p.m. at The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. www.strathmore.org.