This Opus Arte DVD of opera’s most-durable double-bill of ‘Cav and Pag’ is of well-received productions that are especially cohesive given that characters from each of the operas make appearances in the narratives of the other. Thus Silvio from Pagliacci is seen in Cavalleria rusticana working in the bakery owned by Mamma Lucia, and during the orchestral ‘Intermezzo’ steals some illicit time with Nedda from the visiting theatrical troupe (for Pagliacci). Likewise, there is reconciliation of Santuzza and Mamma Lucia during the interlude of the second opera.
In addition Cavalleria rusticana opens in flashback for we see Mamma Lucia confronted by the body of her murdered son, before the action truly commences. The film direction by Rhodri Huw brings these nuances out most effectively, and the heightened theatricality of both operas is vivid, almost cinematic at times, and features a great cast of singing actors.
Aleksandrs Antonenko is dramatically better suited to the jealous Canio than to the reckless and feckless Turiddu, but his singing has a thrilling ring and security throughout. Even better is Dimitri Platanias. He’s terrific as a thuggish swaggering Alfio, dealing dodgy merchandise from the boot of his flashy car, and better still as the twisted, malevolent Tonio in ‘Pag’. The Prologue of the latter opera is one of the highlights – Platanias’s gorgeous voice at best advantage, and he has a memorably trenchant way with the text.
Of the two leading ladies Carmen Giannattasio takes the honours as a put-upon, unhappy Nedda, her slightly edgy soprano bringing out all the heartbreak and isolation of the character. Eva-Maria Westbroek, always a fine actress with her expressive eyes and sympathetic demeanour, is a fine Santuzza, although the voice shows signs of wear and a loss of bloom at points of stress – a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. Add in Elena Zilio’s superb Mamma Lucia, Martina Belli’s characterful Lola and the Royal Opera Chorus on superb form and you have a notable ‘Cav’ experience. ‘Pag’ is enhanced by Benjamin Hulett’s likeable Beppe and Dionysios Sourbis’s virile-sounding, dramatically anxious Silvio; this ‘play within a play’ is deftly staged, especially when emotional reality invades the fantasy.
Antonio Pappano, as ever singer-friendly and theatrically alert, provides sure-footed tempos and relishes the verismo idiom perfectly; the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House responds superbly and with lavish care.
The DVD is nicely presented, with some helpful extra features including Pappano providing illuminating introductions to both of dramas. The booklet is informative also.