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.
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.
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.