Cavalleria Rusticanaand Pagliacci– or Cavand Pagas they are colloquially known – are such regular bedfellows it seems hard to believe that the latter premiered at the Met with Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridiceand continued there for 30 years shackled to Hansel and Gretel! In fact, Mascagni’s endlessly tuneful Cavwas a one-act opera competition winner, while Leoncavallo’s more chromatically sophisticated Pagwas consciously written to emulate the former’s success. Neither is the world’s subtlest opera – a poor performance of Cavcan sound like Gilbert and Sullivan without the jokes – but if you like your brisket rare, the classic verismodouble bill offers plenty of sex, lies and buckets of blood.

Dragana Radakovic as Santuzza, Dominica Matthews as Mamma Lucia, Diego Torre as Turridu and the Opera Australia Chorus in Cavalleria Rusticana. Photos by Keith Saunders

Not that these are easy works to pull off. It requires the right musical and directorial hands to lift these in-your-face shockers out of the realm of pulp fiction. Fortunately Opera Australia’s new Covent Garden co-production does just that thanks to Damiano Michieletto’s highly intelligent staging and Andrea Licata’s...