Cav and Pag backstage

In Robert Carsen’s utterly confusing two-in-one production of Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana one will not find a trace of authentic Italian verismo. Instead the viewer will be subjected to a confusing post-modern take on both Leoncavallo’s blood and guts tale of a crime of passion in a Calabrian village around 1865, and Giovanni Verga’s masterful slice of 19th century small-town Sicilian life. Even after reading stage director Carsen’s lengthy notes on the why and wherefore of his interpretation, I could not come away with a clear idea of his directorial intentions. As the old theatrical saying goes, “Show me, don’t tell me.”

Carsen sets both Cav and Pag in a meta-theatrical limbo where we are never sure of what we are watching. Is it acting or is it real? And, for that matter, does any of it matter? The production, conflating both operas into a single act of numbing length is theatrically self-referential, with scenes of backstage drama, choristers dressing up and putting on make-up, theatrical rivalries, and on and on, full of gimmicks but sorely lacking in logic.

The entire fiasco calls for survival of the fittest among the cast of ten. Coming out unscathed and not terribly embarrassed are soprano Aylin Perez, currently on leave from the lighter lyric roles of her past, and sounding good as an oversexed Nedda. The men in Pagliacci are a mixed lot – tenor Brandon Jovanovich a tad light for the heroic outbursts of Canio, baritone Roman Burdenko a rough around the edges Tonio, but baritone Mattia Olivieri a dramatically and vocally first-rate Silvio.

In the second half of the ill-conceived evening, tenor Brian Jagde sings an acceptable Turiddu, and baritone Roman Burdenko fares better than he did in Pagliacci as the jealous Alfio. But it is the force of nature Santuzza, sung by the extraordinary mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili the one character who dominates the cast of Cavalleria Rusticana. In a role that she already owns along with just about anything she cares to sing, the Armenian star rules the day and her colleagues gamely cede her center stage.

The Naxos release of the Dutch National Opera 2019 production is nicely conducted by Lorenzo Viotti, an artist who knows just how Italian Opera should sound.

Rafael de Acha         All About the Arts