Jonas Kaufmann made a double role debut as Turiddu and Canio in the classic verismo double bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci at the Salzburg Easter Festival in 2015, The productions were directed by Philipp Stölzl and Christian Thielemann conducted with the Staatskapelle Dresden in the pit.
The productions for the two works share a common basic framework. There is an “advent calendar” stage with three cells on each of two levels. Generally the chorus and crowd scenes occupy the lower level which as often as not, function as a single cell while the upper cells are used mainly for domestic scenes though at times they feature close up projections. The sets have a “hand drawn” look. For Cavalleria Rusticana pretty much everything is monochrome giving a somewhat Felliniesque aesthetic while for Pagliacci they are more or less “technicolor”. Time period seems to be 1940s/50s adding to the filmic effect.
Cavalleria Rusticana is played more or less straight though Alfio is made into a rather unpleasant mafia type figure. There’s a scene where his henchmen are clearly beating someone up for protection money. Kaufmann makes a very effective Turiddu with his characteristic blend of power and lyricism and his matinée looks. That said, the standout performance is Ludmila Monastyrska as Santuzza. I’ve not liked what I’ve seen of her much in the past but here she is quite excellent. There’s great intensity to both her singing and acting and, when appropriate, the voice is very beautiful too. The cast is rounded out by Ambrogio Maestri’s appropriately coarse Alfio and Annalisa Stroppa’s flirtatious Lola.
Pagliacci starts out with a very “stagey” Prologue. Kaufmann is still in his bloody shirt from the previous piece. There’s scenery being moved about and so on. Once the real action gets going it’s all played pretty straight. The multi cell set makes it easy to shoew “on stage” and “off stage” simultaneously where needed. Kaufmann builds the Canio role nicely. There’s a moving Vesti la giubba and by the final scene he’s a force of nature. Canio is a role of greater compass than Turiddu and Kaufmann makes the most of it. He’s very well matched by Maria Agresta as Nedda. She’s particularly good at keeping the acting going in the last scene but frankly she’s good throughout. Dmitri Platanias is a coarse and believable Tonio but I found Alessio Arduini’s Silvio a bit lame. There’s far too much operatic arm waving and the voice is a bit dry and dull. Tansel Akzeybek makes the most of Beppe. He’s actually rather good clowning around as Arlecchino. All in all, the combination of the way the set is used and some fine sing and (for the most part) acting builds to a very gripping climax. It’s good stuff. Thielemann seems too to have the measure of the music and lets it rip with no inappropriate subtlety. His Dresden players sound good too.
Video direction is, believe it or not, by Brian Large who was 76 when this was recorded. It’s a really hard production to film. At first I thought it was really odd that all the long shots included the orchestra in the pit and then I realised it’s the aspect ration of the set. It has a much greater width to height ratio than a 16:9 picture so if the video director wants to show the full width he’s faced with a choice of leaving a huge black bar at the top of the screen or including the orchestra. Anyway, I think Large strikes a decent balance between showing one or two cells and the whole stage though there are clearly times when the video audience is missing part of the action. I’m not so sure about the odd shot from high and 45 degrees to the side though. It’s hard enough to see what’s going on without that.
On DVD both DTS and stereo sound tracks sound fine though the picture suffers a bit in the darkest scenes. Blu-ray is available. There are no extras on the disks and the booklet has only synopses and track listings. Subtitle options are English, Italian, French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Korean.
All in all, this disk is an interesting take on these two works and is a great vehicle for Kaufmann.