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DVD: Crotchet


Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria Rusticana - melodrama in one act (1890)
Santuzza - Ildiko Komlosi (soprano); Turridu - Sung Kyu Park (tenor). Alfio - Marco di Felice (baritone); Lola - Barbara di Castri (alto); Mamma Lucia - Cinzia De Mola (mezzo)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples/Zhang Jiemin
rec. live, Ancient Roman baths, Baia, Italy, July 2007
Stage Director: Maurizio Scapparo. Set designer: Nicola Ribertelli. Costume designer: Zaira De Vuncentiis
Sound format, DD 5.1. DTS 5.1. LPCM stereo. Picture format 16:9 anamorphic
Introductory essay in English, German and French
Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French and Spanish
TDK DVWW-OPCAV [78:00 + 33:00 (bonus)]
Experience Classicsonline

Mascagni hit the big time by winning the first prize in a competition sponsored by the publisher Sonzogno with this one act opera Cavalleria Rusticana. This had a sensational debut at Rome’s Teatro Costanzi on 17 May 1890. At age twenty-six it was not his first opera, nor would it be his last. Were it not for Cavalleria Rusticana the rest of his operatic compositions would be unknown. As it is only L’Amico Fritz (1891), of which there is an EMI recording featuring Pavarotti and Mirella Freni, Isabeau (1910) and Lodoletta (1917) are performed, and then only very occasionally.
Cavalleria Rusticana was based on a play by Varga and was part of a genre that became called verismo. The accompanying essay, by Guido Fischer, suggests that Mascagni single-handedly founded the verismo school with this work. The term is used to describe operas that moved away from myth or historical stories to draw on the rawness of contemporary real life. While myth was the basis of Wagner’s operas, those of the Italian bel canto practitioners, Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini being the most prominent, were restricted by political censorship. Composers were forced to eschew anything vaguely contemporary or religiously controversial. Verdi broke away with La Traviata (1853), based on a contemporary story set in France. He was however thwarted at the premiere when despite his wishes the opera was set in an earlier period. By the period of the composition of Cavalleria Rusticana such restrictions in the unified state of Italy were gone.
The story of Cavalleria Rusticana is set in a Sicilian square in front of a church. It concerns adultery, jealousy and murder. The opera comprises nine numbers that trace the mounting tension and conflict between the peasant girl Santuzza and Turiddu. Turiddu was the man who, having made Santuzza pregnant has deserted her for Lola, a former inamorata, who is now married to Alfio the local carter.
After the short opening prelude (Ch.2) Turiddu is heard serenading Lola in his Siciliana (Ch.3). This is normally sung off-stage behind a curtain. In this staging he is high up in the Roman ruins of the theatre at Baia near Naples. Immediately a downside of this al fresco Cavalleria is evident - his voice is far too distant and gets lost. The plot is set on Easter Day. The set is gradually revealed at a lower level of the multi-layered stage. Renaissance frescoes add an evocative and effective touch (Ch.4). Santuzza asks Mamma Lucia about Turiddu’s whereabouts (Ch.6). As Alfio passes by, singing of the travelling life of a carter (Ch.7), a sultry Lola looks on. There are children cracking whips but no sign of Alfio’s cart. The population gathers singing the famous Easter Hymn and enter the church for mass (Ch.9), from which Santuzza is excluded because of her shameful sin of unmarried pregnancy. She reveals to Turiddu’s mother his desertion of her and return to Lola (Ch11). When Turiddu arrives he refuses Santuzza’s entreaties and spurns her to go into church with Lola (Chs11-14). Santuzza reveals all to Alfio (Chs.15-16). After the lovely orchestral intermezzo (Ch.17), as the population exit from church, the story moves rapidly to its conclusion. Turiddu drinks wine with Lola and is full of bravado in a Brindisi (Ch.19). He offers wine to the returning Alfio who rejects it. As the villagers exit the orchestral tension rises. A challenge is issued between the two men and accepted in the traditional Sicilian custom of a bite on the ear (Ch.20). In preparation for the duel Turiddu drinks too much of his mother’s wine before asking her blessing and going off to the fight. This takes place off-stage. The inevitable conclusion is represented in the orchestra and in the cries of the women that Turridu has been killed (Ch.21).
In England, country house opera is the vogue in the summer season when the major opera companies are on vacation. This provides welcome work for singers and orchestral players, both highly competitive professions. The country houses concerned, given the English weather, usually provide cover in the form of a marquee or barn. In Italy, with its profusion of Roman remains and ducal castles and reliable summer weather, performances are usually given in the open air. This performance utilises the Ancient Roman ruins at Baia near Naples. Three levels of the ruins are used very effectively with the lowest encompassing and surrounding the orchestra in a curve. The action moves between the levels with the director being most effective in his movement of the chorus. He is less so in inspiring much in the way of acting from some of the soloists.
One of the biggest problems with recorded open-air opera is location of microphones to catch the singing in the manner necessary to give a realistic sound-stage for the home listener. Sometimes scenery can help in reflecting the sound. As far as the singing is concerned there is no such reflection here and the sound is never focused, often seem disembodied and sometimes raw. The three levels used do not help. I have already noted how Turridu’s Siciliana (Ch.3) sounds far too distant and faint. The seated orchestra, as one might expect, come off best for sound and offer greater immediacy. The orchestral playing also has the benefit of the idiomatic and vibrant conducting of Zhang Jiemin. She shapes the opening prelude with distinction whilst phrasing the Intermezzo so as to ravish the ear. The vibrant chorus are also best caught sonically when they descend and surround the orchestra. The visual impact of the Easter Hymn, sung on a higher level against the lit ruins, is most effective. The video director flits between mid- and close-up shots rather too frequently for my comfort.
Of the soloists, by far the best singing is that of Ildiko Komlosi, her Voi lo sapete reflecting Santuzza’s agonies. She has an impressive and steady vocal range as well as variety of tonal colour. Her acting could be more involved, often being too simplistic and statuesque as the drama unfolds. The chubby and unromantic looking Sung Kyu Park as Turridu sings strongly with some colour. The bald Alfio of Marco di Felice is tonally monochromic. Barbara di Castri as Lola looks the part and sings with sonority whilst Cinzia De Mola as Mamma Lucia is vocally unsteady.
The bonus track involves half an hour of talking to the director and, more enjoyably taking us on a tour round Baia. Interspersed in the talk are excerpts from the opera pointing out the realisation of the director’s ideas. The part aerial tour takes in the delightfully picturesque local countryside along with its hot springs, volcanic vents and hot mud, as well as the extensive Roman remains. It is no wonder the place was a favourite of Emperors. Any tourist seeing this would eschew the honey trap of Capri, where you cannot get to see Gracie Fields sometime-pad anyway, in favour of Baia.
Robert J Farr


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