The Telegraph, 07 Apr 2015
By John Allison
Mascagni: Cavalleria rusticana, Leoncavallo: Pagliacci, Salzburg, 28. März 2015
Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci, Salzburg Easter Festival, review: 'thrilling'
Jonas Kaufmann was on stellar form – twice – in this 'Cav&Pag' double bill, says John Allison

Italian verismo at the Salzburg Easter Festival? It may not be the first combination that comes to mind, but the celebrated Easter Hymn in Cavalleria Rusticana does make Mascagni’s opera natural programming here.

Coupled, as per tradition, with Leoncavallo’s opera Pagliacci – and boasting casts led by the star tenor Jonas Kaufmann (in his double-role debuts as Turiddu and Canio) under the uber-conductor Christian Thielemann – this popular double bill has helped the festival to post its best figures since 2002.

As both a stage and film director, Philipp Stölzl reflects in his productions on how cinema usurped opera’s place in the popular imagination of Italy a century ago. Dividing the stage into six segments and mixing live video into the picture, he references the era of black-and-white movies and also Caruso’s first best-selling record – “Vesti la giubba” from Pagliacci.

A northern European expressionism replaces the original Sicilian settings, making Mascagni’s “rustic chivalry” something more urban. In the Leoncavallo, meanwhile, the transatlantic style of the artist Lyonel Feininger is never far away, a reminder that it was in New York that “Cav and Pag” were immortally paired for the first time.

Cutting back and forth between the simultaneous scenes, Stölzl captures the essential claustrophobia. His are surely among the most original and meticulously detailed stagings in the performance history of these pieces.

As lover in “Cav” and cuckold in “Pag”, Kaufmann is on ardent, Italianate form. He is joined in the Mascagni by Liudmyla Monastyrska, a Santuzza of warmth and thrilling amplitude; Ambrogio Maestri as a hulking mafioso figure of an Alfio; Annalisa Stroppa as a seductive Lola; and the veteran Stefania Toczyska as Mamma Lucia.

In Leoncavallo’s opera, Dimitri Platanias brings a smooth baritone and keen dramatic intelligence to Tonio, and Maria Agresta her mettlesome soprano to Nedda.

This popular success represents a grand finale for the outgoing Intendant, Peter Alward, the former president of EMI Classics who has rescued the festival from the twin blows of financial scandal and artistic shame – the latter, at least, looked likely when Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic waltzed off to Baden-Baden in 2013.

Alward’s coup was to sign up Thielemann and the Dresden Staatskapelle in their place, and the Dresdeners surpass themselves here with their golden sound.

Thielemann’s hot-blooded interpretations give him another chance to prove himself in Italian opera, something he is returning to after years of being pigeon-holed as a Straussian and Wagnerian.
 > back top