Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 - 1945)
Cavalleria rusticana (1890)
Plácido Domingo (tenor) - Turiddu; Tatiana Troyanos (mezzo) - Santuzza; Jean Craft (contralto) - Lucia; Vern Shinall (baritone) - Alfio; Isola Jones (soprano) - Lola
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857 - 1919)
Sherrill Milnes (baritone) - Tonio; Plácido Domingo (tenor) - Canio; Teresa Stratas (soprano) - Nedda; James Atherton (tenor) - Beppe; Allan Monk (baritone) - Silvio
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus/James Levine
Production: Franco Zeffirelli
Set and Costume Designer: Franco Zeffirelli
Stage Director: Fabrizio Melano
rec. live, Metropolitan Opera, 5 April 1978
LPCM Stereo / DTS 5.1 surround
Region-free NTSC DVD
SONY CLASSICAL 88697 91008 9 DVD [152:00]
Attitudes towards Franco Zeffirelli’s productions are greatly divided. I am myself in two minds. His sets are lavish, colourful, sometimes breathtakingly so and there are always a lot of things happening. That said, it seems very often that background ‘affairs’ become so important that they divert interest from the main conflict. His Metropolitan Turandot is that kind of spectacle: spontaneous applause from the audience at the mere sight of the sets. So impressive are they that the onlooker drowns in all the surrounding business and the story seems unessential. The effect at the beginning of Cav is similar. The stage is filled with people carrying out sundry everyday chores; there is perpetual movement. What I like with Zeffirelli is that he respects the composer’s and librettist’s intentions. He never plays hokum with modernized sets or fancy costumes. He is honest - although over-the-top. Here the pictures are darkish and rather gritty which dilutes the effect a little. Once one has accepted the larger-than-life production one can safely relax and concentrate on the well known story, or rather savour the acting ability and the singing.
We notice that Turiddu’s Siciliana in the middle of the prelude is uncommonly off-stage but can anyway enjoy Plácido Domingo’s healthy ring and beauty of tone. When the curtain rises it takes quite some time before the drama proper gets going and that’s a reason why Zeffirelli wants something spectacular to keep the audience happy. Santuzza is far from happy, suspecting that Turiddu is unfaithful. Alfio appears, still unaware of what’s happening behind his back. Vern Shinall, a baritone not previously known to me, has a grand voice but no nuances. Tatiana Troyanos, on the other hand, is glorious. She has a tendency to sing sharp when pressing the voice too hard at climaxes but she is a great actor and Voi lo sapete is touching. Domingo, now appearing on stage for the first time, is a handsome Turiddu and is in luminous vocal shape. The duet with Santuzza is one of the highlights. Lola has little to sing but to make her a worthy rival to Santuzza she needs to be her vocal equal. Isola Jones in this role is cast from strength and I have heard few better.
The final scene, at Mamma Lucia’s tavern, is verismo at its most blatant. It needs a fully-fledged dramatic actor with histrionic powers. Domingo is as close to the ideal as possible. I remember Giuseppe Giacomini on a more than twenty-year-old Philips recording - recently reissued at budget price. He runs Domingo very close, but Domingo is in even sappier voice. Mamma, quel vino e generoso is almost unbearably intense. Unfortunately what follows is a great blemish and this has nothing to do with Domingo or any of the people on stage and in the pit but is down to the audience. When Turiddu leaves the stage we know that within a minute we will hear the distant cries from a woman ‘Turiddu has been killed’. The charged atmosphere after Turiddu’s last notes is something to be savoured in silence. Not so the Metropolitan audience. They break the spell in no time through violent and ruthless applause and spoil the whole thing. A horrible anticlimax! If you can stomach this and accept Zeffirelli’s production and can stand an unsubtle but big-voiced Alfio, the performance is well worth seeing and hearing. Incidentally both Jones and Shinall made their Metropolitan debuts that evening.
Not many tenors have the stamina to sing both Turiddu and Canio on the same evening, but Domingo has. Besides the physical strain and wear on the vocal cords there is also the emotional strain. Domingo admirably steps into a new character during the interval and also manages to find another voice for Canio. His address to the people at the beginning of act I, Mi accordan di parlar, is lighter and more lyrical, reminding me of the young Carlo Bergonzi in his 1951 recording of the opera for Cetra. A little further on Un tal gioco is a shade darker, more dramatic but still with some bel canto feeling. At the end of the act Vesti la giubba is the deeply felt, big-boned, intense outpouring that few latter-day tenors have managed so convincingly. The end of the opera, when all mental barriers are gone, is terrific and horrifying. Domingo is not only one of the greatest of singers but his combination of singing and acting is unique.
He is in good company in this production. Many will remember Teresa Stratas in the 1984 film of La traviata, where she was Violetta opposite Domingo’s Alfredo and with James Levine as here, conducting and Zeffirelli, as here, directing. She was also one of the great actors and her charisma is very tangible in the present production. Her aria, Stridono lassù, swift and nuanced, is one highspot. The duet with Silvio, always my favourite scene in this opera, is another, with Alan Monk’s lyrical baritone a fine complement to the soprano. The bigger baritone role, Tonio, is superbly sung and acted by Sherrill Milnes, whose prologue is grandiose. James Atherton’s fine lyric tenor is perfect for Arlecchino’s serenade.
The sound is not in the same class as the performance but is acceptable. With a well-nigh perfect Pagliacci and a slightly flawed Cavalleria rusticana this is a good buy.
With a well-nigh perfect Pagliacci and a slightly flawed Cavalleria rusticana this is a good buy.