This DVD set captures the lavish staging of ‘Cav and Pag’ at the 2015 Salzburg Easter Festival, with Jonas Kaufmann making his double-debut as Cavalleria rusticana’s feckless love-stud Turiddu and as Pagliacci’s murderous, jealous husband Canio. For Kaufmann fans, this release is a must. The German tenor ticks all the verismo boxes, entirely credible as an actor, and acquiring sleazy good looks and predatory sexiness for his superb Turiddu and threateningly obsessive as Canio. He sings with southern passion, rather more expansive in the scorching directness of ‘Cav’ and marvellously introspective and brooding in Pag. With Nedda’s infidelity confirmed, the close-up of Canio getting ready for the show and finishing off his make-up with a lurid gash of rouged smile is the essence of desolation.
It is, though, just one fine moment in Philipp Stölzl’s virtuoso production that serves both operas without compromising the identity of either. The vast stage of the Grosses Festspielhaus is split into six smaller stages, in a double-decker arrangement, each one with its own shutter to phase in and out of the action, so that, for example, we can see and hear Turiddu serenading Lola and see her in another area drinking-in all the attention.
In both operas, the staging gives us intimate vignettes and a strong sense of continuity. Just as effective are Stölzl’s designs, which you could be forgiven for thinking they echo the work of Ravilious, Bawden and Nash, but no doubt references to Italian and German artists working in that 1920s/30s’ expressionist world of illustration. The result is grainy, stylish and very urban, and you are never quite sure whether you are seeing two dimensions or three.
Video-director Brian Large makes telling use of close-ups – Canio’s ‘Vesti la giubba’, sung by Kaufmann with remarkable bleakness; and in ‘Cav’, a study of Santuzza screened throughout the ‘Intermezzo’ as she takes in the enormity of what she has set in train. The films make the scale and fluency of all this abundantly clear, and the way the cameras pick up the dizzying amount of detail going on in the huge chorus, dressed in 1930s-themed costumes, is masterly.
The rest of the casting is very strong. In ‘Cav’, the carter Alfio is a brutal Mafioso powerfully played by Ambrogio Maestri. Liudmyla Monastyrska is gripping as the conflicted, betrayed Santuzza and on great vocal form; and Stefania Toczyska is compelling and mysterious as Mamma Lucia. In ‘Pag’, Dimitri Platanias shows off an Iago-like depravity as Tonio, in a magnificently sung and incisively observed portrayal; Maria Agresta pushes all the right buttons, and Alessio Arduini’s nerdy lover Silvio sings with ardent lyricism and reveals a buffed body as he strips off for a raunchy love scene.
Christian Thielemann, a Wagner and Strauss supremo, brings full-on passion and breadth to these scores, drawing full-blooded and full-toned playing from the Staatskapelle Dresden.