Limelight Magazine, August 19, 2016
by Clive Paget
Mascagni, Leoncavallo
Superstar tenor leads a stylish double bill of heroes and villains.

The twin verismo peaks of ‘Cav’ and ‘Pag’ have oft appeared on the same programme since they were first shackled together by the Met in 1893 (bizarrely, they’d previously coupled ‘Pag’ with Gluck’s Orfeo in a staging where Melba sang Nedda). Less frequent has been the same tenor singing both Turiddù and Canio on the same evening (Domingo and Vickers pull it off on DVD), while a double role debut is even less common. Now you can add Jonas Kaufmann to that list (at the 2015 Salzburg Easter Festival), and here he is on film to prove it.

Philipp Stölzl’s compartmentalised staging works well, solving problems inherent in the Salzburg stage – one of the widest on the circuit – and his mix of dramatic snapshots and live video pulls the action together in intriguing and illuminating ways. Take for instance the opening of Cavalleria Rusticana. Instead of an offstage serenade, Kaufmann’s Turridù is discovered in the attic garret he shares with Santuzza and their young child (spot the backstory) singing dreamily over the rooftops to Lola who lives across the street. Projected large on the opposite side of the divided stage, what might be hard for an audience to see becomes expressively amplified, while paying homage to the era of early black-and-white films from which much of his arresting design takes its cue.

There are plenty of engrossing ideas. Mamma Lucia is a hard-nosed bookkeeper (a rich portrait by Polish mezzo Stefania Toczyska), while Alfio (an unpleasantly fleshy Ambrogio Maestri) runs a gambling den on the side. The 2D chorus is slightly disconcerting, their ‘Stepford Wives’ happiness contrasting with the wretched realities of the protagonists. Pagliacci is less radical, but more colourful, with video allowing us to see the psychotic smear of the lipstick as the boozy Canio assumes the mantle of scary clown.

Vocally the stars are Kaufmann and Ukranian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska. The former is in superb voice, every word clear, top notes ringing. He’s a convincingly rakish Turiddù, yet Pagliacci’s final “La Commedia è finite” sends shivers up the spine. Monastyrska creates a sympathetic Santuzza, her possessiveness making it clear why Turiddù strays. Vocally she’s strong and passionate, top notes secure. Elsewhere Dimitri Platanias makes a convincingly odious Tonio (sans penultimate top note in the Prologue), Alessio Arduini appeals as Silvio, Maria Agresta is a slightly dull Nedda.

Christian Thielemann provides a detailed reading in the pit, not quite in the Karajan league, but with plenty of sweep and colour. The filming and sound is first rate.


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