Stefano Ranzani conducts Mascagni & Leoncavallo

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Leoncavallo,Mascagni
LABELS: Arthaus Musik
WORKS: Mascagni: Cavalleria rusticana; Leoncavallo: Pagliacci
PERFORMER: Liliana Nikiteanu, Cheyne Davidson, Irène Friedli, José Cura, Paoletta Marrocu, Boiko Zvetanov, Gabriel Bermúdez, Carlo Guelfi, Fiorenza Cedolins; Orchestra and Chorus of the Zurich Opera House/Stefano Ranzani; dir. Grischa Asagaroff (Zurich, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: 101 489

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In this 2009 Zurich production each half of the familiar verismo double bill is presented in the same spare, semi-abstract sets, which work better for Cavalleria than for Pagliacci. The former offers the usual would-be realistic vignettes of village life as the background to the main events, where the acting is presentable.

Paoletta Marrocu provides visual intensity as Santuzza, though not enough voice. Equally limited vocally is Cheyne Davidson’s Alfio, though his Mafioso-boss-like swagger fits the bill. Liliana Nikiteanu’s pretty, carefree Lola hits the mark.

But the star here is undoubtedly José Cura who offers himself up for a taxing central assignment in both operas. He plays a stern and nicely concentrated Turiddu in Mascagni’s Sicilian tragedy, vocally imaginative if a touch idiosyncratic in his employment of a mezza voce that verges on crooning. Even so, his is an appreciable achievement.

If his Canio in Pagliacci is not on this level, it’s because Grischa Asagaroff’s staging debases Leoncavallo’s masterpiece and its central character along with it. A good performance with a great protagonist achieves a measure of tragedy as we watch a human being fall apart and descend to murder.

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Cura’s Canio has clearly fallen apart long before this opera begins, and has nowhere to go, while much of the surrounding staging is just vulgar tat. Carlo Guelfi is an ineffective Tonio and Fiorenza Cedolins a dowdy Nedda, though Gabriel Bermúdez makes a personable Silvio. George Hall