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CAV & PAG in Madrid

Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana & Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci

Cavalleria rusticana
Santuzza: Violeta Urmana
Turiddu: Vincenzo La Scola
Lola: Dragana Jugovic
Mamma Lucia: Viorica Cortez
Alfio: Marco di Felice

Canio: Vladimir Galouzine
Nedda: María Bayo
Tonio: Carlo Guelfi
Beppe: Antonio Gandía
Silvio: Ángel Ódena

Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real (Madrid Symphony Orchestra & Chorus)

Musical Director: Jesús López Cobos
Stage Director: Giancarlo del Monaco

Opus Arte OA 0983 D

It is Giancarlo del Monaco who puts his mark on this new production, claiming that the two one acters are like Siamese twins who should never be separated.

In his presentation the two old war horses are intertwined, with the Prologue to Pagliacci performed before Mascagni's opening scene as an introduction to both operas. Carlo Guelfi delivers it striding through the stalls of the Teatro Real, and the expressions of audience members bring us right into the excitement of this exceptional evening. Del Monaco takes Tonio's words as a manifesto for the whole verismo movement - and he thinks of them too as a motto for the future 'realism' of Italian cinema, soon to come.

Cav is depicted in stark black and white, played out in a setting inspired by a marble quarry in central Sicily, with the chorus functioning as in a classical Greek tragedy. For Pag, he individuates the chorus members, creating a lively scene of travelling theatre coming in to liven village life, updated a little with the stage on the back of a lorry.

Both are gripping and benefit from the juxtaposition and contrast. Whilst the drama of the forsaken Santuzza is felt inwardly, the men surrounding the hapless Nedda indulge their violent emotions careless of consequences in scenes of swirling activity.

The performances in both tragedies are powerful with no significant let-downs.; our opera specialist will remind us of some classic interpretations on record. For us they were wholly convincing, and supported by Jesús López Cobos and the orchestra in perfect balance and demonstration recorded sound.

It is noteworthy that in this production for DVD, in contrast to the reticence of e.g. Covent Garden, the director expounds his credo for us in the booklet and, at greater length, in one of several informative statements to camera on a bonus extra disc. Umanova and Vincenzo La Scala likewise provide insightful statements about their roles; some of the others less so and with longer clips from the filmed performances than necessary - excerpts from the development of the interpretations at rehearsal would have been more informative.

Our opera specialist will discuss the singing and remind us of some classic interpretations on record in an addendum to follow in due course. Meanwhile, we recommend this DVD without hesitation.

Peter Grahame Woolf

An overview by Serena Fenwick

Cav and Pag” - two short operas combined by a quirk of fate into what has proved to be an enduring twosome-of-convenience, never out of the repertoire.  

One reason for their popularity must be the ease with which they can adapted to the resources available.  I remember, with equal pleasure, the impact of Zeffirelli’s monumental production for Covent Garden (seen in 1965 with Gwyneth Jones and Marie Collier as the heroines) and Jamie Hayes economical 2002 staging of I Pagliacci for Opera Holland Park, (teamed on that occasion with Puccini’s Suor Angelica) in which the principals were packed into an imaginary, almost out of control, minibus.

So, considering first the visual aspects, Giancarlo del Monaco’s settings are relatively simple but evocative.    His starkly “blanco e nero” Cav is particularly effective in conjuring up the spirit of a remote village community where emotions must remain at least outwardly subservient to harsh religious practice.    By comparison the greasepaint and garish costumes of Pag bring home their false cheerfulness.

On DVD this production has to compete with Zeffirelli’s lavish and stunningly beautiful location film, with luxury casting to match on a superimposed studio soundtrack.  The charm of the Sicilian countryside is complemented by a young and very personable Placido Domingo, in golden voice, taking on both tenor roles, alongside Elena Obratsova and Renato Bruson in Cav, and in Pag Juan Pons and Teresa Stratas, who would be my Nedda of first choice.  (DG 00440 073 4033 recorded 1981)

The operas have proved just as popular with singers.  All the great tenors sung the leading roles and recorded at least the principal arias, providing  a wide open choice of extracts:  Caruso, Gigli, McCormack , Bjorling, Pavarotti, Caruso and Domingo.  Baritones, most notably Tito Gobbi, have been eager to take on both Tonio and Alfio.   The role of Santuzza has attracted dramatic sopranos of the calibre of Emma Calvé and Renata Tebaldi, whilst that of Nedda has been taken up by Victoria de los Angeles and Joan Sutherland. 

On the new DVD I found both Vladimir Galouzine’s impassioned Canio and Maria Bayo’s beautifully judged Nedda to be a lot more impressive than either Violeta Urmana’s  occasionally wayward Santuzza or Vincenzo La Scola’s rather stolid Turiddu.  But supporting casts and chorus are of high standard and there is that special frisson that comes only from a live performance.

There are plentiful complete sound recordings, both in combination or separately.  Copies of an historic recording of Cav with the elderly Mascagni conducting (HMV, 1940) are to be found, but its curiously slow tempo probably relegates it to the rank of curiosity value.   Although one may find a sneaking admiration for the sheer bravado of Elena Suliotis’ Santuzza (her career was tragically shortened by such injudicious excesses) that the recording has insufficient overall merit for it to be recommendable.

After some deliberation I can whittle my choice of paired editions to two, although in each case the recordings of the two operas were separated by a year. 

With the operatic world still mourning the death of Luciano Pavarotti, his recording for Decca set (SET 414 590-2) made in 1976-77, when he was at the height of his powers, is a strong contender.  The sheer musicality of his performance is well matched by Julia Varady’s much admired Santuzza and Mirella Freni’s rather elegant Nedda.  Piero Cappuccilli as Alfio and Ingvar Wixell as Tonio both acquit themselves well.   

And then there is the Callas/di Stafano set (EMI 72435 56287 25 recorded 1953-54).  Apparently Callas made her teenage debut as Santuzza in a student production in Athens, but otherwise she never performed either that role nor that of Nedda on the professional stage.  But, being Callas, that did not in any way deter her from producing fully fleshed out portrayals.  Her Santuzza has an un-matched earthiness, yet when you listen you will find that she achieves the effect very subtly and with no vocal histrionics.  A year later, when Pag was recorded, some of the gloss had sadly gone from the top of her voice, but she uses that in creating a very real woman. Her tenor in both operas is Giuseppe di Stefano, classically Italianate in style, and Tito Gobbi  as Tonio completes the line up of “greats”.

These are operas that it is impossible to tire of, so there should be room for variety in most collections – perhaps both DVDs and a CD set.  Although they are so short, both come complete with overtures and superb orchestral intermezzi and it is finally Tullio Serafin’s conducting of the La Scala Orchestra which, despite mono sound,  finally tips the CD scales for me in favour of the EMI recording.

Serena Fenwick (October 2007)