Tuesday, March 31, 2009

One for the Price of Two

Sam Shirakawa attended this past Monday's performance of Cavalleria Rusticana/I Pagliacci at the Metropolitan Opera. As always, we hereby present his take:




A reviewer of the Met’s current Cav/Pag revival complains that Franco Zeffirelli’s 1970 production is beginning to look old -- maybe too old.


In fact, the sets and costimes, which Z also designed, are beginning to look exactly as they should have when they were brand new -- sun-bleached, dusty and a bit tatty.

Depending on what you think of the Met’s current casting policy, though, some patrons may feel shortchanged: Cav/Pag is usually cast with two tenors, one for each opera. In the current run, Roberto Alagna sang Turiddu and Canio in a few performances, and now Jose Cura is taking over to do double duty.

I skipped Alagna because he doesn’t pique my interest in either role. Cura is another matter. His voice is sufficiently “brown” to bear the pressures both roles impose with the kind of swagger they demand. The animality in Cura’s sound -- brash but vulnerable -- sparks the imagination.

As it turned out on Monday evening, he seemed more involved as the rake Turiddu than as the cuckold Canio. I had the impression that he was rushing the tempo in Pag and looking for a peg on which to hang his costume, rather than sinking into the morbid brooding that drives his character to tragic action.

His Turiddu, on the other hand, rocked with chauvinistic testosterone, brandishing portamento like a deadly weapon. There was more there in Cura's Turiddu, possibly because his Santuzza is far more compelling as a foil than his Nedda.

I first heard Ildiko Komlosi about ten years ago in Mannheim, when she stepped in on short notice as Octavian. She was a pleasant though somewhat reticent surprise on that occasion; she was a wow on Monday night. Komlosi has spent her time expeditiously and her talent wisely in the intervening decade. She sounds like she’s targeting the gap left by Cossotto and Verrett. From the way she cut loose in “Voi lo sapete” and in the protracted duet, she's aiming in the right direction.

Nuccia Focile has a pleasant stage personality, but her vocal profile sounds like it’s in transition from lyric to spinto. Only in the final moments of the play-within-a-play did she finally display the conviction she earlier was trying to muster.

Which brings me to the pair of elements that glued Monday evening’s performance together. Alberto Mastromarino also did double duty as Alfio in Cav and Tonio in Pag. You might want a bit more deadly assurance in the former and a larger dollop of grease in the latter, but his account of Tonio’s prologue had just the right cautery, topped off with an ecstatic A natural.

Pietro Rizzo drew marvelous playing from the Met Orchestra and reminded me again of what wonderful music both scores contain.

Cav and Pag are incessantly derided as warhorses, but when they are treated with the care that the Met is giving them at the moment, they are exciting to ride again and again.

© Sam H. Shirakawa

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