Carsen productions of Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana

Robert Carsen’s productions of the classic pairing of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, filmed at Dutch National Opera in 2019, are an attempt to extend the meta-theatricality of the former to the latter. To this end he reverses the normal order which allows the prologue of Pagliacci to apply to both works and elements of the Pagliacci to be extended in Cavalleria Rusticana.

1.clowns

Carsen makes full and effective use of the play-within-a-play elements of Pagliacci. The chorus enters, boisterously, from the back of the auditorium and later for the “performance” noisily occupies the front three rows of the Orchestra. In between it’s used to good effect as a “crowd” in a typical Carsen manner. The story is told fairly conventionally but effectively. Ailyn Pérez as Nedda does a really good job of staying in character as Columbina as it slowly becomes apparent that Canio (Brendan Jovanovich) has “lost it” and the chemistry (or lack of it) between her and Tonio (Roman Burdenko) is palpable. The scenes between Nedda and Silvio (Mattia Oliveri) are quite steamy. Dressing and undressing plays a big part in both productions!

2.nedda

The musical side is well done. Burdenko (who also sings the prologue) has a sturdy and solid baritone while Pérez has a rather lovely voice and is a very good physical actor. Jovanovich is convincing. He sings a heartfelt Vesti la giubba and seems genuinely unhinged in the final scene. Conductor Lorenzo Viotti gets an appropriately red blooded sound out of the Netherlands Philharmonic. All in all, it’s a pretty satisfying Pagliacci.

3.tonio

I’m not sure though that Carsen’s attempt to carry the meta-theatricality over into Cavalleria Rusticana really works. The concept is that everyone involved took part in the performance of Pagliacci. We open on a tableau vivant of the dead lovers surrounded by the chorus. Everyone then troops off to the dressing room and starts to change. Alfio’s birthday part is celebrated as a sort of after party. Santuzza is excluded from the opera chorus because of her “impurity”. And so on. It tries, but it just can’t really disguise the fact that the piece is a rather sordid little tale based on one of the oldest and nastiest clichés in opera; that sexual purity is all that matters in a woman. It’s done in modern dress too so one doesn’t even get the frisson that the original audience had of watching “low lifes”. These people are us; a point which Carsen reinforces in the finale with the whole auditorium reflected on a giant mirror at the back of the stage.

4.dressingroom

Musically though it’s excellent. Anita Rachvelishvili is a vocally ravishing Santuzza and she’s well supported by a blustering Brian Jagde as Turiddu. Roman Burdenko appears again as an icy Alfio. Elena Zilio is a dignified Lucia and there’s a brief cameo as Lola for Rihab Chaieb. She doesn’t have a lot to sing but what she has, she handles very well. The chorus is kept very busy and throw themselves into the action with abandon. Again the orchestral sound is cinematic.

5.neddasilvio

The filming, by François Roussillon is good. Neither piece is easy to film as a lot of the time it’s very dark and in the second half full stage mirrors come into play but it comes over well enough on Blu-ray. The sound quality is excellent too. You will definitely want surround sound on for some of the chorus scenes in Pagliacci where the music really is coming from all over the theatre.

6.canio

Overall, it’s an interesting attempt to make Cav and Pag more than the sum of its parts. I don’t think it entirely succeeds but it does yield a very good Pagliacci and a well sung Cavalleria Rusticana.

Robert Carsen’s productions of the classic pairing of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, filmed at Dutch National Opera in 2019, are an attempt to extend the meta-theatricality of the former to the latter. To this end he reverses the normal order which allows the prologue of Pagliacci to apply to both works and elements of the Pagliacci to be extended in Cavalleria Rusticana.

7.bepponedda

Carsen makes full and effective use of the play-within-a-play elements of Pagliacci. The chorus enters, boisterously, from the back of the auditorium and later for the “performance” noisily occupies the front three rows of the Orchestra. In between it’s used to good effect as a “crowd” in a typical Carsen manner. The story is told fairly conventionally but effectively. Ailyn Pérez as Nedda does a really good job of staying in character as Columbina as it slowly becomes apparent that Canio (Brendan Jovanovich) has “lost it” and the chemistry (or lack of it) between her and Tonio (Roman Burdenko) is palpable. The scenes between Nedda and Silvio (Mattia Oliveri) are quite steamy. Dressing and undressing plays a big part in both productions!

8.knife

The musical side is well done. Burdenko (who also sings the prologue) has a sturdy and solid baritone while Pérez has a rather lovely voice and is a very good physical actor. Jovanovich is convincing. He sings a heartfelt Vesti la giubba and seems genuinely unhinged in the final scene. Conductor Lorenzo Viotti gets an appropriately red blooded sound out of the Netherlands Philharmonic. All in all, it’s a pretty satisfying Pagliacci.

9.dressingroom

I’m not sure though that Carsen’s attempt to carry the meta-theatricality over into Cavalleria Rusticana really works. The concept is that everyone involved took part in the performance of Pagliacci. We open on a tableau vivant of the dead lovers surrounded by the chorus. Everyone then troops off to the dressing room and starts to change. Alfio’s birthday part is celebrated as a sort of after party. Santuzza is excluded from the opera chorus because of her “impurity”. And so on. It tries, but it just can’t really disguise the fact that the piece is a rather sordid little tale based on one of the oldest and nastiest clichés in opera; that sexual purity is all that matters in a woman. It’s done in modern dress too so one doesn’t even get the frisson that the original audience had of watching “low lifes”. These people are us; a point which Carsen reinforces in the finale with the whole auditorium reflected on a giant mirror at the back of the stage.

10.santuzzalucia

Musically though it’s excellent. Anita Rachvelishvili is a vocally ravishing Santuzza and she’s well supported by a blustering Brian Jagde as Turiddu. Roman Burdenko appears again as an icy Alfio. Elena Zilio is a dignified Lucia and there’s a brief cameo as Lola for Rihab Chaieb. She doesn’t have a lot to sing but what she has, she handles very well. The chorus is kept very busy and throw themselves into the action with abandon. Again the orchestral sound is cinematic.

11.santuzzaurridu

The filming, by François Roussillon is good. Neither piece is easy to film as a lot of the time it’s very dark and in the second half full stage mirrors come into play but it comes over well enough on Blu-ray. The sound quality is excellent too. You will definitely want surround sound on for some of the chorus scenes in Pagliacci where the music really is coming from all over the theatre.

12.lola

Overall, it’s an interesting attempt to make Cav and Pag more than the sum of its parts. I don’t think it entirely succeeds but it does yield a very good Pagliacci and a well sung Cavalleria Rusticana.

13.turridulucia

Catalogue number: Naxos Blu-ray NBD 0117V

This review first appeared in the Summer 2021 print edition of Opera Canada.

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