On Saturday, March 14, New Jersey Festival Orchestra brings together, in Westfield,  two operatic legends for the very first time as Wagner’s monumental drama Die Walküre meets the tragic pathos of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. A cast of internationally acclaimed guest performers from New York’s Metropolitan Opera and beyond joins NJFO to present, these two operatic masterpieces - an unlikely couple united by the tragedy and trauma of forbidden love.

“I think this might be the first time in history that these two works have been performed together declared NJFO Music Director David Wroe. “Whether this coupling is considered madness or pure genius, I believe that all will agree this is a truly grand event of magnificent opera.

First up, NJFO will present Act 1 of Die Walküre, (The Valkyrie), the second work in Richard Wagner’s monumental four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen.  Recounting the epic mythological story of the incestuous lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde, offspring of the god Wotan, Die Walküre (1856) is admired for its exploration of complex family entanglements and glorious music of astonishing power and complexity. 

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Second on the agenda is Leoncavallo’s 1892 Pagliacci (Clowns), which also depicts a story of illicit love - but this time a gritty, down to earth presentation of jealousy and retribution among characters drawn from everyday life.  Renowned for its operatic “verismo” style featuring emotionally charged harmonies and melodies, this short Italian work includes some of opera’s most famous ‘easy listening’ tunes such as Canio the clown’s tragic soliloquy “Vesti la giubba,” made famous by Enrico Caruso.

“These two operatic staples, diametrically opposed on a stylistic level, hold a commonality in that they both present shockingly 'peculiar' love couplings,” explained Wroe.

Innovative and visionary stage and costume design by Stage Director Maria Todaro further intensifies the juxtaposition of the two operas: Die Walküre is set in a futuristic, apocalyptic world. I Pagliacci will take place in the Wild West.

Continued Wroe, “There is something for everyone in this evening of spectacular opera. Sophisticated aficionados of Wagner will easily recognize and appreciate the genius of I Pagliacci set in a period of myth-making cowboys, gunslingers, and saloon madams. Those looking for the “verismo” of I Pagliacci should be prepared to be converted to Wagner by Ms. Todaro's extraordinary “Mad Max” interpretation!”

A cast of internationally acclaimed guest performers from New York Metropolitan Opera and beyond joins NJFO to present the two operas.

Metropolitan Opera’s Adam Laurence Herskowitz, who hails from Livingston, New Jersey, sings the role of Seigmund (Die Walküre). American dramatic soprano Amber Smoke sings the role of Seigmund’s twin sister Sieglinde and world renowned bass Steven Fredericks performs the role of Hunding, Sieglinde’s brutish and sinister husband.

The cast of Pagliacci includes 2019 Metropolitan Opera National Council finalist Jeremy Brauner as Canio, internationally acclaimed Polish soprano Marcelina Beucher adds Nedda, Canio’s wife, and Metropolitan Opera tenor TJ Capobianco is Beppe.

Sung in German/Italian with English supertitles, NJFO’s Joseph T. DeAlessandro Memorial Opera Concert has been made possible through additional generous support from Ray Catena of Union, the NJ State Council on the Arts and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

The performance will take place on Saturday, March 14 at 7pm at the Presbyterian Church in Westfield with a free pre-concert lecture by Michael Rosin at 6pm. Can’t make March 14? Opera’s Ultimate Odd Couple will also be presented on Sunday, March 15 at The Concert Hall at Drew University in Madison on Sunday, March 15 at 3pm.

Tickets for both concerts ($30-$76, students U21 $15) are available online at www.njfestivalorchestra.org. Tickets may also be purchased by calling the box office (908) 232-9400.