Cavalleria Rusticana is set in rural Sicily
and Zeffirelli presents extensive scenes of the Sicilian countryside
with sheep, rocks and authentic village buildings, including a large
Baroque church which dominates the action. Here the director is at his
best in depicting the atmosphere of Sicilian life; unfortunately the
colouring is pale and wishy-washy and the camera always seems to be
only just in focus. This same weakness also affects the filming of Pagliacci.
Although Cavalleria Rusticana is not the most
subtle of operas, it is very dramatic and when placed in the correct
environment, as it is here and given good singing, it cannot fail. The
performance of Plácido Domingo is excellent and he is in very
good voice. The other soloists also give good performances, although
Elena Obraztsova does not sound very Italian. The chorus sings well,
especially in the Easter Hymn. Overall, despite the technical
problems with the filming, this opera is very enjoyable.
I wish I could say the same about Pagliacci.
Here Zeffirelli has brought the action forward into the inter-war years
in a setting which is set in a deliberately barren landscape and a claustrophobic
agglomeration of theatrical props and a staging which emphasises the
poverty and coarseness of the characters. Most performances of the opera
are placed in a theatrical setting which adds a dream-like patina to
the story. Here however the sordid story has its unpleasantness emphasised
and it is impossible to empathise with any of the characters. The nature
of the colours and filming as mentioned above serves to emphasise the
unpleasantness of the story. Thus the often poetic tone of the music
is to naught. As in Cavalleria, Plácido Domingo puts in
an excellent performance and the other members of the cast sing well
(Teresa Stratas is a particularly credible Nedda).
Throughout the DVD, Georges Prêtre proves a competent
conductor but without any special feeling for the music. The design
of the sleeve is rather unattractive, but the booklet notes by Julian
Budden are especially good.
Overall, although Cavalleria Rusticana has positive
features it would be hard to recommend this disc.