Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria Rusticana - Melodrama in one act (1890)
Turiddu - José Cura
Santuzza - Paoletta Marrocu
Lola - Liliana Nikiteanu
Alfio - Cheyne Davidson
Lucia - Irène Friedli
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919)
Pagliacci - Drama in Two Acts with a Prologue (1892)
Canio - José Cura
Nedda - Fiorenza Cedolins
Tonio - Carlo Guelfi
Beppe - Boiko Zvetanov
Silvio - Gabriel Bermúdez
Orchestra and Chorus of the Zurich Opera House/Stefano Ranzani
rec. Zurich Opera House, 2009
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 490 [151:00]


This ‘Cav’ and ‘Pag’, in Blu-ray DVD looks quite stunning. Look, for instance, at the clown costume Tonio wears as he sings his Pagliacci Prologue. The detail is outstanding, all the clashing cross-stripes of his waistcoat and overcoat hold steady, and all the subtleties of his costume’s colours, and that of the parrot on his shoulder, they are all captured - as are the lovely 1950s, full-skirted dresses of the ladies of the chorus in Pagliacci’s opening scene. The sound is equally outstanding. Just one example: you can hear all the niceties of Leoncavallo’s orchestral textures imitative of birdsong as Nedda sings her ballatella, ‘Stridono lassù’, expressing her envy and admiration of the happy carefree flight of the birds overhead. The set, costumes and lighting are more muted as appropriate to Cavalleria Rusticana’s Easter Sunday setting.

Cavalleria’s set is quite minimalistic with the outline of the church to right and a high gantry stretching over the village square, centre-stage to the dwellings, including those of Lola and Mamma Lucia, to the right. Santuzza has a shadowy glimpse of Lola’s illicit lover as the drama begins. That lover is her own Turiddu (José Cura). Santuzza is devastated. Paoletta Marrocu acts very convincingly as Santuzza: vulnerable, anguished and embittered, she becomes bent on vengeance then remorseful when she realises her betrayal of Turiddu to Alfio will lead to inevitable tragedy, and Turiddu’s death. Santuzza’s heartbreak is almost unbearably moving. Marrocu’s vocal range is impressive: steady on her high notes and strong and colourful in mid-range. She is pious as she leads the villagers in the famous Easter Hymn, rancorously needling in her accusatory duet with Turiddu and remorsefully sorrowful when she realises the implications of her treachery. Cheyne Davidson, looking like some vengeful American gangster thunders darkly and impressively in his role as the cuckolded husband Alfio. José Cura impresses strongly as the philandering Turiddu, taking advantage of all the expressive opportunities in the role - flamboyantly serenading Lola, hotly rejecting Santuzza’s appeals to his better nature and sorrowing and appealingly vulnerable when, in a near drunken stupor, he realises his fate and pleads with his mother to look after Santuzza if he loses his duel with Alfio.

Cura, as Pagliacci’s Canio, tends to chew the curtains; his acting, for some, might well seem way over the top. At times his eye-rolling reminds one of Robert Newton’s Long John Silver in the film version of Treasure Island. Cura faces tremendous competition from such Canios as Bergonzi, Domingo and, especially Caruso so memorable in the celebrated ‘Vesti la giubba’ yet Cura does manage to raise a lump in one’s throat in his rendition of this most sorrowful of arias. Fiorenza Cedolins is a voluptuous Nedda, slyly and contemptuously teasing the hunchback Tonio - not much evidence of Tonio’s disability in this production – Carlo Guefi seems far too attractive and virile to prompt such disdain. Cedolins makes a really convincing street-wise Nedda, slyly coy and coquettish. And she is nicely wistful in her ‘Stridono lassù’ (see above) yet her voice, at times of high drama, tends towards a screech which may or may not be in character. As the well-meaning Beppe (not ‘Peppe’ as in the booklet) and, more importantly, as Arlecchino in the second act’s play within a play, Boiko Zvetanov shines. His voice has a most attractive timbre. Gabriel Bermúdez’s Silvio is adequate. Much more impressive, in every way, is Guelfi’s Tonio; he has real stage presence and presents the clown’s bitterness and thirst for vengeance with relished gusto.

Stefano Ranzani conducts with authority and passion from the exquisite detail of the lush violin passages in the Cavalleria Rusticana overture to the darkly dramatic double murder music that is the climax of Pagliacci.

A visual treat with some impressive deliveries if it is not as memorable as the best of Cav and Pag.

Ian Lace