Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci are two of the greatest Verismo operas. I love them both and they are very special to me(having performed in the chorus in a production in 2008), Cavalleria has the more beautiful music while Pagliacci the more dramatic story. On DVD, the operas are very well served with the 1968 Karajan and 1982 Zeffirelli films, and the 1978 Met production. 2010 Zurich and 2011 La Scala are disappointing though. Individually the operas have been given fine treatment, particularly true with Pagliacci with the 1954 Corelli/Gobbi performance. For Cavalleria, top honours go to the 1996 production with Meier and Cura.
This Cav and Pag from Tokyo is excellent, and one of the many 60s-70s Tokyo opera productions that are well worth watching. There is not much that is wrong here actually, there are drawbacks but not catastrophic ones. The costumes and sets are neither terrible or amazing. They are well suited to the operas, are traditional and at least don't look ugly. There is not much that is striking about them though, not that much variety excepting the colourful Play scene from Pagliacci. The camera work is adequate at least and the picture quality is one of the better and brighter ones of this series, but the sound is rather boxed and the subtitles continue to distract.
Staging-wise there may not be much special or innovative about it, but there is nothing that compromises the productions and there is still the much-needed atmosphere and dramatic intensity. The Easter Hymn, Voi Lo Sapete, the Pagliacci prologue and the play scene are the highlights. The orchestral playing is lush and powerful in equal measures and there is plenty needed for both Cavalleria and Pagliacci. Olivier De Fabbritis' conducting is no-nonsense, accommodating and musicianly. He also allows the tension and beauty of the scores to come through and nothing here feels too subdued like with the disappointing 1976 Simon Boccanegra. The chorus are a little static dramatically but sing with such vibrancy and beauty of tone which helps to make up for things.
Fiorenza Cossotto and Placido Domingo's performances are the main draws of Cavalleria. Cossotto may seem as old-fashioned and not very subtle to some, but like under Karajan I found her very impassioned and moving as Santuzza. It is difficult not to be moved by her Easter Hymn and her duets with Domingo and D'Orazzi have a thrilling intensity to them. Apart from some shrillness at the top, her singing is incredibly well preserved and manages to be powerful and nuanced. When it comes to tenors, Domingo is one of the best when it comes to singing-acting, for me second only to Jon Vickers. He is on top form here, even at 35 he has a burnished and quite youthful ring to his voice and his more sympathetic assumption than usual of Turridu is exemplary. Nella Verri benefits from looking like Mamma Lucia, she sings firmly and expressively and acts with secure conviction throughout. The Lola is quite kitten-like and seductive and somewhat teasing in her interruption during Turridu and Santuzza's duet. Attila D'Orazzi is rather plain and dull as Alfio though.
Domingo also stars as Canio for Pagliacci, and as Canio should do dominates it. He is brutish and thrilling(if not quite as terrifying as Vickers), and whether it is in lyrical or dramatic passages- and there is a fair bit of both for Canio- his singing is burnished and unstrained. The second best performance comes from Benito Di Bella, who is an outstanding Tonio. Oily and ominous yet poignant and amusing, it is a most thoughtful interpretation with every side of the role done with conviction. His singing is sizable and very easy on the ear, seen especially in a rendition of the Prologue that screams of "how good will the rest of the production be to follow that?" Elena Mauti-Nunziata is both vulnerable and shrewd as Nedda, she sings vibrantly with all the notes even if there are sopranos with more beautiful and interestingly-coloured voices than her. Piero Di Palma is a seasoned and seemingly ageless Beppe. The only disappointment is Lorenzo Saccomani's disappointingly stiff Silvio.
All in all, excellent with the brilliant singing being the best thing about it. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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