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Pietro MASCAGNI (1863–1945)
Cavalleria rusticana (1890)
Violeta Urmana (soprano) – Santuzza; Vincenzo LaScola (tenor) – Turiddu; Dragana Jugovic (mezzo) – Lola; Viorica Cortez (mezzo) – Mamma Lucia; Marco di Felice (baritone) – Alfio
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1858–1919)
Pagliacci (1892)
Vladimir Galouzine (tenor) – Canio; María Bayo (soprano) – Nedda; Carlo Guelfi (baritone) – Tonio; Antonio Gandia (tenor) – Beppe; Ángel Ódena (baritone) – Silvio;
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Real (Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Chorus)/Jesús López Cobos
Stage Director: Giancarlo Del Monaco;
Set Designer: Johannes Leiacker;
Costume Designer: Birgit Wentsch;
Lighting Designer: Wolfgang von Zoubek
Television Director: Angel Luis Ramírez
rec. Teatro Real de Madrid, 27 February, 2 March 2007
extra features on DVD2: interviews with Giancarlo Del Monaco, Jesús López Cobos, Violeta Urmana, Vincenzo LaScola, Vladimir Galouzine and María Bayo
OPUS ARTE OA0983D [2 DVDs: 201:00]

These two operas have a lot in common. For a start they were premiered only two years apart. They signalled something new in the history of opera – the verismo style, where no kings, gods or noblemen are in sight, only common people. They are short and make an ideal double bill in the theatre. There are only a handful of singers in each but the chorus is very important and the central theme is jealousy and sudden violent death Thus it was a good idea to intertwine them in this production from Teatro Real in Madrid, where they played during February and March 2007.
The performance starts, fittingly enough, with the Pagliacci prologue. Tonio, in hat, overcoat and scarf, makes his entrance from the rear of the stalls, singing and slowly proceeding to the front, from where he sings most of the ‘aria’. Eventually he walks onstage, where in front of the red curtain finishes his proclamation, claps his hands and the curtain rises.
We are confronted with an abstract ‘landscape’ of big white blocks, giving little clue as to the small Sicilian village that they are supposed to depict. The Pagliacci prologue is not followed by the bustling opening scene of that opera but by the idyllic, pastoral prelude to Cavalleria rusticana and during the next good hour this drama unfolds in front of us.
The two operas may be regarded as twins but they are worlds apart musically and dramatically. The religious undertone – I would even call it ‘overtone’ – that permeates Cav is absent from Pag. It is Easter and people, dressed in black, are on their way to church. In this production this is a strenuous way. They struggle slowly uphill in a kind of vicarious affliction. Later a procession, led by a Christ figure weighed down by a cross, walks the same way, his followers, in white, flogging themselves. The whole opera in black and white breathes coldness. A redeeming God seems very distant. The warm religiosity of the music remains our only consolation. In Cav it takes a long time before the conflict, which is only intimated initially, develops into open confrontation. In Pag the temperature is high from the outset. Mascagni’s music may not be deep but it is more human and sophisticated, while Leoncavallo’s blatant stridency is crude but thrilling.
In Cav the abstraction of the setting exposes the human relations very clearly. The Spartan stage-picture also requires excellent actors who visually and vocally are able to convey their feelings. The close-ups in a video production can be mercilessly revealing but here the producer has been lucky to assemble a cast of excellent actors. Mamma Lucia has lost the steadiness of tone but makes a touching portrait of the despair that afflicts her when she realises the truth of her son’s behaviour. Lola is made stunningly charismatic with her flashing eyes and seductive smile and the alluring depth of her voice. Alfio is the dutiful and honest carter, whose pride makes him turn into a merciless avenger. These are three splendid characterisations but it is the wronged Santuzza and the vile Turiddu who stand at the centre of the drama. They are in the main outstanding. Violeta Urmana’s despair, her remorse when she realises the consequences of what she has revealed to first Mamma Lucia and then to Alfio, all this is graphically expressed in her face. Her singing is so powerful and nuanced – the latter something one never takes for granted in this opera – that one has to go back to Fiorenza Cossotto in her heyday to find anything comparable. Vincenzo LaScola, who started as a quite lyrical singer – Nemorino and the Duke of Mantua were for many years his core repertoire – has in later years taken on spinto roles. Some years ago he recorded Radames with Harnoncourt but was regarded as too small for the role. As Turiddu he sometimes presses too hard for volume and becomes rather coarse but by and large he has the measure of the role. He is a convincing actor and in the final scene – Mamma, quel vino e generoso – when it has dawned on him that everything has gone astray, he finds a lyricism and a warmth that is immensely touching.
The duel takes place on stage and Turiddu dies. His corpse is placed on a white block, a sarcophagus. Santuzza embraces his body and then the light goes out. When the curtain goes up again, presumably after an interval, a crowd of people are standing on stage, backs towards the audience. The sarcophagus is being drawn out. New sets in the shape of two large screens, have been erected. The touring theatre company’s car is rolled in and Pagliacci continues  where it was interrupted: after the prologue. It is a highly-charged drama that unfolds in and around the vehicle. If there was thrill and intensity in this Cavalleria, here in a more realistic setting it becomes even more tangible. I need not go into the action or the detail of the production; it’s more than enough to say that the thriller that ensued had me sitting on the edge of my chair – and I have known the story and the music by heart for close to 45 years.
The sharply-etched characters that director Del Monaco has enticed his actors to create, breathe such life into the proceedings that the worn hype “X is Nedda” for once was true. Yes, Maria Bayo is Nedda: professional, scornful to Tonio and infatuated. She glows with longing and hidden passion in the introduction to her aria and is a true comedian as Colombina. Her singing, in the aria and elsewhere, is stunningly beautiful and nuanced. Beppe sings and acts well. Silvio is rather wooden and his singing effortful. Carlo Guelfi, whom we had already encountered ‘in person’ in the prologue, is a superb actor with a remarkable range of expression. Vocally he is a bit worn but in this role it matters less when seeing him as well as hearing his voice.
In the lead part as Canio, Siberian-born Vladimir Galouzine is dynamite. His Pagliaccio has toured for many a year. He is a bit tired but playing comedy is his bread and butter and he does his best to make the show go on. When he finds that Nedda, whom he loves, has a lover, his world collapses. His mind during Vesti la giubba is an open wound and during the orchestral intermezzo that follows he sits helpless and apathetic at the front of the car while the others in a professional manner finish their make-up. The intensity in his singing and acting when he finally summons his powers or rather, when he can control himself no longer, is almost unbearable. His tremendous voice attacks the listener physically, even through the DVD medium. It is manly, deeply baritonal but with a brilliance in the upper register that puts even Mario Del Monaco in the shade.
Such electrifying singing and acting almost makes one forget the supporting forces. I have heard warmer string tone and better ensemble from an opera chorus but they respond well to Jesús López Cobos, who keeps the kettle constantly boiling during these intense performances. They are certainly worth every opera-lover’s attention.
Göran Forsling


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