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Pietro Mascagni: Cavalleria rusticana
Ruggero Leoncavallo: I pagliacci

Cavalleria rusticana: Paoletta Marrocu (Santuzza), José Cura (Turiddu), Cheyne Davidson (Alfio), Liliana Nikiteanu (Lola), Irène Friedl (Lucia)
I pagliacci: Fiorenza Cedolins (Nedda), José Cura (Canio), Carlo Guelfi (Tonio), Gabriel Bermúdez (Silvio), Boiko Svetanov (Beppe)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Zurich Opera House, Stafano Ranzani (Conductor), Jürg Hämmerli (Chorus master), Grischa Asagaroff (Director), Luigi Perago (Set Designer), Hans-Rudolf Künz (Lighting Designer), Nele Münchmeyer (TV/Video Director)
Recorded live at the Zurich Opera House (2009) – 151’ (plus 120’ bonus)
Arthaus Musik DVD #101489 or Blu-ray #109170 – Booklet in English – Titles in English, Italian, French, German, Spanish, Japanese & Korean - Distributed by Naxos of America

While there is nothing truly revelatory about this recording, it does contain a first-rate presentation of these popular works (known of course as Cav and Pag) in one of Europe’s top opera houses.

Both works date from the 1890s and here each one has been updated. Cav is set c.1930 with its characters rather sombrely dressed as befitting Easter Sunday. Pag is set c.1950 with well-observed colourful fashions of the era. In each case the updating helps eliminate certain visual clichés while still maintaining a congruency between period mores and styles.

Zurich’s opera house seats about 1200 and its stage is hardly the widest. However Set Designer Luigi Perego has managed to fit a diminutive town square as called for, with the church door on the right, the entrance to Lola’s house opposite, and even a view into the countryside. The scene fully conjures up the constricted nature of village life and its lack of privacy.

During the prelude we see Turiddu leaving Lola’s house as dawn breaks; at the orchestral crescendo the church door opens and light and smoke pour out, a nice matching of visual and musical emphasis.

Paoletta Marrocu is as soulful and desperate a Santuzza as one could wish; not only is she pregnant while unmarried, but we get the impression that Turiddu is her last chance. José Cura (in terrific voice) is the only singer in both operas. We expect macho strutting from him, but his Turiddu is apprehensive and death-haunted, while his Canio is a weary man defeated by life. Normally the duel in Cav is off-stage but this time we can see it at stage rear, and it is clear that Turiddu throws himself on Alfio’s knife.

Cheyne Davidson is a properly virile Alfio, and Stefano Ranzani displays his mastery of the idiom as he conducts the opera house’s first rate orchestra and chorus.

For I pagliacci the stage is made over with a lot of colourful lighting for the second act. It’s difficult to make the character of Nedda sympathetic (Diana Soviero and Teresa Stratas have managed it), and if Fiorenza Cedolins doesn’t quite manage the required vulnerablity, she sings the role just fine. One is more convinced of her allure thanks to her scene with the ardent Silvio, nicely voiced by Gabriel Bermúdez. Canio comes across as the vulnerable one - before he erupts; his rage is intense, and the famous final line barely rasped out.

Carlo Guelfi's voice has a worn quality perfectly suitable for the role of Tonio.

All in all, enjoyable performances.

The generous two-hour bonus features more than 40 preview highlights from other Arthaus releases, most of them new but some vintage, of opera, ballet, concerts and documentaries. As one would expect, there is a lot of intriguing material.

When one opens the case, the booklet seems to be missing. But if you look closely, the sheet with the back and front cover can be taken out and on the back are plot summaries and a list of musical numbers.

Michael Johnson




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