MASCAGNI Cavalleria Rusticana LEONCAVALLO I Pagliacci
We know European theatre traditions – and the first opera here does play at Easter (which Santuzza curses) – but the violence of Cav and Pag are not my idea of a Christmas Day outing. Still…here is Domingo’s first-ever Turiddu/Canio double, live for Munich masochists in 1978, only relatively well recorded (Bavarian Radio) and transferred by Orfeo.
Now, I don’t want to spoil the party immediately but I never understand why – apart, presumably, for financial reasons – obvious performance errors in these so-called ‘first’ releases of historic material are not corrected. Both Santuzza and Alfio here have unhappy moments at traditionally sticky places early on in the show which do not make for pleasant repetition. Pagliacci could also have done with a bit of editing – not because of performance error but in order to calm down the excessive laughter (not to mention the wordless interpolations of di Bella’s over-the-top Tonio) which, heard repeatedly ‘live’ on disc without the benefit of pictures, is both incomprehensible and annoying.
We are left with an exciting Cavalleria. This is surely Domingo’s more convincing part of the two. Varnay’s veteran Lucia is riveting and Rysanek, once past the Easter Hymn, contributes mightily to the central quarrel duet. Di Bella is excessive and inaccurate; Maestro Santi, perhaps distracted by a stage production which an uncommonly interesting note tells us that he didn’t like, is pacy but not always together with the stage. In Pag, Stratas, predictably, is sensational – she is the drama. Domingo is never less than solidly there vocally but tends to over-sentimentalise. Di Bella delivers ‘Si può?’ beautifully in concert style but then ‘acts’ so much in funny voices – even in his attempt to pick up Nedda – that more becomes less. Brendel is a simple, noble Silvio with good Italian. Santi accompanies straightforwardly but gives little colour to the play. The noises of the onstage audience (and Tonio) during the play – and their prominent balance – are distracting rather than exciting. The Cavalleria has been pirated frequently and is on YouTube. A disappointing release for the reasons stated above, although performance collectors will need Stratas, Varnay and Domingo’s double.