, January 2008
The old warhorses, freed of weighty tricks, romp home winners here
It is a genuine pleasure to welcome a new production of the terrible twins Cav and Pag that has no gimmicks but presents the contrasting tales of jealousy and infidelity with sincerity and dramatic flair. Giancarlo del Monaco and his designer, Johannes Leiacker, set Cavalleria in a stark townscape of white painted buildings and masonry, the black-clad Sicilian women silhouetted under the fierce sunlight. The Easter Hymn is made all the more tense by a parade of penitents dragging a cross. Violeta Urmana and Vincenzo La Scola are well paired as Santuzza and Turridu, their confrontation interrupted by the unusually attractive Lola of Dragana Jugovich. Marco di Felice conveys the terrible pain that Alfio feels on learning of his wife's affair – the fight between him and Turridu is played out onstage, the challenge taken up when a glass of wine is emptied on to the floor. The grate Viorica Cortez is a dignified Mamma Lucia. As Turridu's body is carried away at the end, the scene changes seamlessly into the opening of Pagliacci (the Prologue to which is sung from the stalls right at the start of the evening by Carlo Guelfi).
From the 1890s setting of Cav we have moved forward 50 years, and the travelling players arrive in a lorry, with posters for the show on the outside – the mood is a bit like Fellini's La Strada. From the outset, this Pagliacci becomes a really painful story to watch. María Bayo is superb as Nedda, tough and wilful, but trapped by the overbearing Canio of Vladimir Galouzine. His voice is very baritonal in quality, the high notes not always easily achieved, but what tremendous authority and passion he brings to the part; he really has it in him to become the leading dramatic tenor of our time. All the other parts are well cast and the crowd scenes are beautifully handled. Jesús López-Cobos leads the Madrid forces in a performance that could not easily be surpassed anywhere nowadays. The director for television, Angel Luis Ramírez, deserves high praise for capturing Del Monaco's intense staging so well.