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Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Cavalleria Rusticana (1890)
Alexia Voulgaridou – Santuzza
Marina Ogii – Lola
Angelo Villari – Turiddu
David Cecconi – Alfio
Elena Zilio – Mamma Lucia
Cristina Pagliai – Una donna
Chorus & Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino / Valerio Galli
Lorenzo Fratini (chorus master), Luigi di Gangi & Ugo Giacomazzi (stage directors), Federica Parolini (set designer), Agnese Rabatti (costume designer), Luigi Biondi (light designer)
Bonus Feature: Interviews with Conductor & Others [6:11]
rec. February, 2019 at Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, French, German, Japanese, Korean
Sound format: PCM 2.0/DTS HD Master Audio 5.1; Picture format: 1080i60 1 BD 25 NTSC 16:9
DYNAMIC 57843 Blu-ray [80 mins]

Pietro Mascagni’s groundbreaking Cavalleria Rusticana debuted in 1890 with spectacular success. Many opera houses throughout Italy immediately scrambled to stage it and others across Europe soon took it up as well. I refer to it as “groundbreaking” because it is generally recognized as the first verismo opera, thus establishing the genre that would draw works from Leoncavallo, Cilea, Giordano, and most famously Puccini. Cavalleria Rusticana, Mascagni’s first opera, was followed by L’amico Fritz, regarded by many as his greatest or at least second greatest opera. Mascagni did produce other significant, even strong operas. Still, his compositional powers seemed at their peak in the very early years of his career. That set him apart from almost every other composer in music history.

The libretto for Cavalleria Rusticana was written by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci, based on the 1880 short story by Giovanni Verga of the same title. Verga also created a successful play adapted from the short story. Many readers are familiar with the plot details of the opera, but for those who are not, let me quickly summarize. Set in a Sicilian village shortly before 1900, the story opens as Turridu is romancing Lola, whom he left for a time to serve in the military. He had learned that in his absence she married the prosperous scoundrel Alfio. Turiddu had subsequently had an affair with Santuzza, but abandoned her to go back to Lola. Santuzza, desperate to regain Turiddu’s love, informs Alfio of the ongoing affair between Lola and Turiddu, not realizing the tragic consequences that could result. Alfio challenges Turridu to a fight to the death and Turridu is killed.

It is not a long opera, as the summary, condensed though I have made it, might suggest: in this production it lasts just under an hour and a quarter. That is why it has so often been performed and recorded with another short opera, Leoncavallo’s equally famous Pagliacci. In recent times the pair have often been divorced from each other in the opera house and on recordings as well. In the LP era, each opera could rarely be accommodated on a single disc. James Levine’s briskly paced but excellent 1979 Cavalleria on RCA is an exception. Thus, it was more common to find the two operas coupled on three LPs, thereby giving the buyer good value for the money. A marriage was born. With the advent of the CD and then the DVD and Blu-ray later on, things changed. The latter two formats could accommodate Cavalleria and another short opera or work together on a single disc, but unfortunately there is no coupling here with this new rendition of Cavalleria on Dynamic.

Yet, I cannot rule this effort out of consideration because of at least two marvelous singers in the cast, and the splendid conducting of young Valerio Galli, not to mention the pretty high production values. Tenor Angelo Villari as Turriddu is simply stunning, both vocally and dramatically. I am not sure if I have ever heard the role sung this effectively. Too bad that his off-stage opening number O Lola ch’aidi latti la cammisa is miked at such a distance, as the story requires. It sounds most impressive, whetting one’s appetite for his later scenes. We must wait for his encounter midway through with Santuzza that begins with Tu qui Santuzza for Villari to demonstrate his extraordinary talents. Here and in later numbers he is consistently excellent, exhibiting an attractive, full-throated tone. And he truly becomes the proud, self-absorbed Turiddu. But of course Santuzza has the larger role and in this production soprano Alexia Voulgaridou is also hugely convincing. Try her heartrending Voi lo sapete wherein her dramatic skills also shine through. In the latter realm she’s quite a virtuoso, actually: how does she summon those apparently very real tears in her encounter with Turiddu? A hidden onion?

Elena Zilio is fine as Mamma Lucia here. She knows the role well; she has turned in a fine performance in a 2015 ROH, Covent Garden production, available on Opus Arte DVD and Blu-ray. (More about this later.) Marina Ogii is very good in the role of Lola, and David Cecconi is more than adequate as Alfio, although his vibrato can turn into wobble somewhat at times, as in his opening number Il cavallo scalpita. Cristina Pagliai is fine, and the chorus sings splendidly. As suggested, Maestro Galli gets spirited playing from the orchestra. He demonstrates an intelligent grasp of Mascagni’s masterly score with judicious tempos and fine phrasing overall.

As for the stage production, it is quite good. Costuming is updated to the 20th century or perhaps even to current day. Yet, some of the female characters’ dresses have the appearance of peasant attire, which is quite appropriate, but the longer length, noticeable as well on the female citizenry, suggests an earlier time. Children appear in the opening wearing demonic masks and mostly red clothing. We see later they are associated with the character of Alfio and that is certainly fitting enough, but I am not sure it is such a subtle touch. Lighting and other aspects are fine. Sound reproduction, camera work and picture clarity are all excellent on this Blu-ray disc. There is a brief bonus feature included on a separate track. It offers interviews with the conductor, stage directors and Angelo Villari.

So, this is quite an impressive Cavalleria, now in fact my favorite on video. By the way, it is not only available on DVD as you would expect, but also on one very well filled CD (review). As for the competition, I earlier mentioned Levine’s effort from 1979, which features Domingo, Scotto and Pablo Elvira in the leads, a cast hard to beat. And Levine shapes the score to effectively yield all the music’s color, drama and tragedy. But, alas, it is not on video and appears to be available only on an expensive LP disc. Among recordings that pair Cavalleria and Pagliacci on video is the very fine aforementioned Royal Opera House production on Opus Arte. But if you are seeking just an excellent version of Cavalleria on video, this new Dynamic recording is the one to get. However, if you want more value for the money, you may choose to look elsewhere. Your move.

Robert Cummings

Previous review (CD): Göran Forsling

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