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Michael Johnson, November 2015

Carlo Guelfi’s voice has a worn quality perfectly suitable for the role of Tonio.

…enjoyable performances. © 2015 Read complete review

Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Striking performances of opera’s Siamese twins, with Cura in superb voice whether as love rat (Cav) or deluded drunkard (Pag). Both his leading ladies give as good as they get, both vocally and dramatically, and the supporting roles are also well filled. These filmed performances more than hold their own in a very competitive field.

Robert Benson, December 2010

MASCAGNI, P.: Cavalleria Rusticana / LEONCAVALLO, R.: Pagliacci (Zurich Opera, 2009) (NTSC) 101489
MASCAGNI, P.: Cavalleria Rusticana / LEONCAVALLO, R.: Pagliacci (Zurich Opera, 2009) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 101490

Super video and audio also are experienced on this latest coupling of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci taped last season in the Zurich Opera House. Unfortunately, the performances are unexceptional. Director Grischa Asagaroff has moved both operas up a century, which really is of little consequence, but his decision to have the duel between Alfio and Turiddu on stage is ill-advised, and he decided Canio would be drunk during the entire performance. He also elected, for whatever reason, to have the final line of Pagliacci, “la commedia e finita,” spoken almost inaudibly by Canio (instead of Tonio). Often singing in both operas is slightly off-pitch, and sometimes is mediocre—listen to Carlo Guelfi’s opening to Pagliacci. Paoletta Marrocu’s Santuzza and Fiorenza Cedolins’ Nedda are better visually than vocally. Cura’s voice is uneven although he has some exciting moments in the final scene of Pagliacci. A rising star in the operatic world, baritone Gabriel Bermúdez, sings Silvio most impressively. A mixed bag here, but the video and audio are terrific.

Ralph V Lucano
American Record Guide, November 2010

Picture and sound are excellent.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Arthur Lintgen
Fanfare, September 2010

Uh-oh. Hide the children! Zurich Opera productions of these inseparable verismo operas would seem to provide numerous opportunities to shock and titillate viewers. Actually, these Grischa Asagaroff productions turn out to be surprisingly traditional (for the Zurich Opera), and very effective at the same time. The basic set for Cavalleria rusticana is the usual village square with steps to the church door on the right and a raised balcony in front of Lola’s bedroom to the left of center. The colors are cool blues, blacks, and whites that contrast sharply with the warm and bright reds and oranges in Pagliacci. Many of the various performers in Cavalleria rusticana are dressed in black coats and ties that suggest the local mafia. Carlo Guelfi (Tonio) sings the prologue to Pagliacci on a raised and gaudily lighted platform that turns out to be the stage for the play within a play at the end. The basic set for Cavalleria rusticana remains, but is totally transformed to the point where it is almost unrecognizable in Pagliacci.

José Cura may be the ideal verismo tenor now, and he acts, looks, and sings Turiddu and Canio like no one else. Otherwise, the casts for both operas are totally different. Paoletta Marrocu matches Cura vocally as Santuzza...Cheyne Davidson (Alfio) looks appropriately sinister in his black leather coat...Fiorenza Cedolins presents a vocally challenged but sizzling Nedda...Conductor Stefano Ranzani draws incredibly rich sonorities and gorgeous sounds from the always excellent Zurich Opera House Orchestra as he lingers lovingly over nearly every melody...Some listeners will not like the orchestra being placed so far forward in the DTS 7.1 surround-sound mix, but it is a realistic presentation of what you are likely to hear in the opera house. Subtitles are available in English, Italian, German, French, Spanish, and Japanese. The program notes include an essay on the two operas and a plot synopsis. There are no extras.

These are very traditional productions with bare-bones packaging that function primarily as vehicles for Cura. Blu-ray technology contributes significantly to their overall effect...

Henry Fogel
Fanfare, September 2010

These performances by the Zurich Opera company date from 2009, and were recorded live. The staging by Grischa Asagaroff is basically traditional...and is extremely effective. Nele Münchmeyer’s direction for TV is fine, too, not afraid to linger on shots for a reasonable amount of time...The intended star is, of course, the Argentine tenor José Cura, and he has earned well his reputation for singing with complete dramatic involvement, often throwing caution to the winds for the sake of the passion of the moment. Indeed he is dramatically convincing in both roles here...for Cavalleria rusticana, the best singing comes from the young Italian dramatic soprano Paoletta Marrocu, who manages a Santuzza of some vocal splendor along with convincing acting...The recorded sound is very natural and well balanced, the photography is terrific, the orchestra plays well, and Stefano Ranzani’s conducting is idiomatic and well shaped. It is incisive much of the time where it needs to be and at the same time lyrical and flowing where that is what is needed.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, August 2010

Here is a fresh take on the two short works opera fans call Cav/Pag, because they have been presented together practically since their premieres in 1890 and 1892, respectively. This 2009 Zurich Opera production brings the two works together with two very different aesthetics. Cavalleria Rusticana, by Pietro Mascagni (1863–1945) gets moved up to the 1930s, where its subtext of an oppressive Church gets reinforced by an extra layer of grey fascism. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci resets the itinerant troupe of entertainers with its murderously jealous lead clown into the Technicolor 1950s (with an inexplicable B-boy dancer thrown in). Both modernizations work very nicely, and the house orchestra sounds fantastic under conductor Stefano Ranzani on this Blu-Ray disc. Star tenor José Cura appears as Turridu in the first opera, Canio in the second. In Cavalleria, there’s little stage chemistry. Much finer is the ensemble work in Pagliacci. There are no extras, aside from trailers.

Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, August 2010

The Zurich production of Cav utilises a conventional set. Mamma’s tavern is at stage right and the church at stage left with the village square in between offering enough space for the torrid drama to come. The colour palette is deliberately limited, with a sombre blueish-grey predominating both in costumes and stage lighting. Those costumes place the setting, to my own inexpert eyes, anywhere between the 1930s and the 1950s, with half the chorus looking like small businessmen and their wives and the rest more like farm labourers—imagine a cross between The Godfather and Cinema Paradiso and you won’t be far off the mark...stage director Grischa Asagaroff marshals his physical and human resources to generally very good—and sometimes quite imaginative—purpose. There are not only plenty of engaging bits of business going on in the crowd scenes, but some interestingly individual and dramatically effective ways of staging the major pieces of on-stage action too. Thus, at the very opening, Turiddu sings his serenade to Lola in a post-coital face-to-face encounter on the balcony of her apartment—though, given the power of Cura’s delivery, we must presume that his bedroom exertions hadn’t been too taxing. At the other end of the opera, we actually witness, for once, Turiddu’s fight with Alfio going on in the background...The singing in this production is very strong. José Cura’s character may be a rat—and is beautifully characterised as such—but he has the voice of a lion. He ramps up the emotion to breaking point, both in his confrontation with the abandoned Satuzza and his farewell to his mother. Paoletta Marrocu is, meanwhile, certainly not the downtrodden, passive Santuzza that we too often see. She is resolute, focused and at times almost hysterical. One has the feeling that vengeance on the man who wronged her is not just an afterthought but a predetermined alternative course of action right from the start. Turiddu meets at the very least his match in her—and Marrocu’s voice is well up to equalling Cura’s in their climactic encounter on the church steps.

The other soloists are more than competent singers who add to the overall impact. Moreover, they all look spot-on and are able to act convincingly too. Mamma Lucia appears suitably worn down by life and by her wayward son’s antics; Lola is flirty and very pretty; and Alfio is, this time, not the usually encountered simple and easily cuckolded wagon driver but something of a small town mafioso - at one point we even see him passing out handfuls of cash to his cugini - from whom violence is only to be expected.

The principals’ singing is equally expert and enjoyable in Pagliacci too. Clearly, from the moment of his first appearance, Canio’s paranoia about his wife’s fidelity derives from—and is enhanced by—the hip flask from which he is perpetually taking a swig. Whether the alcoholic husband has driven Nedda to adultery or her adultery has driven him to drink remains a question as unresolved as the old riddle of the chicken and the egg. Cura’s interpretation downplays sentimentality and histrionics—but even without any Gigli-like sobs, Vesti la giubba retains all its emotional heft.

As in Cav, Cura has been matched with a strong, charismatic soprano who dominates the stage. Fiorenza Cedolins stands up to him not just dramatically in their confrontations but vocally too. Her welcome suitor Silvio and her unwelcome one Tonio both rise well to the occasion when singing with her—the former most movingly as he asks her why, if she will not run away with him, she has led him along and the latter full of malicious venom after her spiteful rejection of his advances.

The production, apparently set in the 1950s, utilises the skeleton of the set for Cav but removes the tavern and the church so as to allow space for Pag’s crowd scenes. The stage is, in fact, kept very busy for, on this outing, Canio’s troupe is made up not just of the travelling players but also by some skilful tumblers, jugglers, acrobats and even a walker on stilts. Once again the Swiss chorus—including plenty of children—is well marshalled and sings out heartily as Leoncavallo’s score requires: the director also gives them plenty of engaging bits of stage business that bring a smile to the face. The whole production has been well thought out with plenty of endearing touches. I especially liked the arrival and departure of Silvio—a Brylcreemed smoothie who soon strips down to a grubby wife-beater for some vigorous necking with Nedda—on a bicycle; the way in which the set is modified during the Intermezzo while a sort of ballet for the acrobats and tumblers takes place in half light; and the visually attractive staging of the final play-within-a-play.

Setting aside what I take to be the genuine accident of Tonio’s false red nose falling off at one point and being hastily replaced, there were a couple of dramatic miscalculations. It was, for instance, rather disconcerting to see Canio sporting a dark blue clown’s face when the words he is singing (If my face is white...) surely indicate he should be in a clown’s whiteface make-up. While that sort of thing may not, in itself, be of great importance, it is certainly enough to pull you up short and to take your mind and emotions momentarily away from the drama. Conversely, I have always taken the final words delivered on stage—La commedia e finita—as being not part of the drama but rather delivered to the real (not the stage) audience as a sort of parallel to Tonio’s original prologue: so to find them relegated on this occasion to an almost inaudible personalised musing on Canio’s part, delivered to no-one in particular, seemed simply wrong-headed.

Those minor quibbles are certainly not enough to disqualify this DVD from anything but the highest recommendation.

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