Cav and Pag at Barcelona’s Liceu

P. Mascagni, Cavalleria Rusticana and R.Leoncavallo, I Pagliacci: Soloists, Orquestra Simfònica y Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu. Conductor: Daniele Callegari. Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona. 11,12 and 13. 4.2011. (JMI)

Coproduction Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Teatro Bellini di Catania.

Direction: Liliana Cavani (Original) Marina Bianchi (Revival)

Sets: Dante Ferretti

Costumes: Gabriella Pescucci

Lighting: Gianni Mantovanini


Cavallería Rusticana

Santuzza: Ildiko Komlosi/Luciana D’Intino/Paoletta Marroccu

Turiddu: Marcello Giordani/José Cura/José Ferrero

Alfio: Marco Di Felice/Vittorio Vitelli/George Gagnidze

Lola: Ginger Costa-Jackson/Claudia Schneider

Mamma Lucia: Josephine Barstow/Victoria Livengood

I Pagliacci

Canio: Marcello Giordani/Jose Cura/Piero Giuliacci

Nedda: Ángeles Blancas/Inva Mula/Olga Mykytenko

Tonio: Andrzej Dobber/George Gagnidze/Vittorio Vitelli

Silvio: Jean-Luc Ballestra.

Beppe: David Alegret/Albert Casals

Pagliacci Production Picture © A Bofill

After an absence of 23 years, the traditional double bill of Italian verismo Cav & Pag were back at Barcelona’s Liceu. One might think that this long absence means that the audience tastes have changed in Barcelona to the point that the more than these opera longer arouses any interest but this is clearly far from reality, as there have been no less than 15 performances programmed, with 3 different casts and considerable box office interest.

The Liceu had originally programmed this double bill in the production by Richard Jones from English National Opera, but it was replaced by an older one by Liliana Cavani. I assume that the reason for this change was about budget problems, although nothing has been said.

Liliana Cavani’s production is very traditional, inspired by well known movies dealing with these plots – ‘Il Gatopardo’ for Cavalleria and ‘ La Strada’ for Pagliacci both of which are more than present. The stage in the Mascagni shows the Church on the right hand siade and an apartment house on the left, in thebasement of which is Mamma Lucia’s tavern. In the Leoncavallo the stage consists of a small theatre in the outskirts of a city and the action is moved to the 50s. In Cavalleria the production often shows people on the balconies of the apartments, spying what takes place down below, so that the problems of the protagonists seem to be very well known by their neighbors. The direction of actors is generally not all that strong and the consequence is for both operas to seem merely routine.

Musical direction was in the hands of Daniele Callegari, whose reading has been effective but not much more. I think that these operas need larger doses of passion than we had here although the chorus was excellent as usual, while the Orchestra failed to reach the same level.

Of the three Santuzzas, Luciana D’Intino and Ildiko Komlosi were good, although D’Intino shows problems at the upper register and is not at her former best. Overall, Mrs. Komlosi was the best of the three and in the third cast Paoletta Marrocu came across as a better actress than singer, with only a modest instrument at her disposal.

We had two tenors who doubled as Turiddu and Canio and the results came out as rather below expectations. In the first cast Marcello Giordani was an outstanding Turiddu, one of the very best around today, although I was not wholly convinced by his Canio. Giordani has an impressive top, but his middle range has not the same quality and his low notes are too weak, a mixture which is not the best for Canio. José Cura is almost the opposite. He was only a moderate Turiddu to my mind, who seem uninvolved on stage, with a troublesome top register, to the point of avoiding the final high note at “Viva il vino spumeggiante”. He was better suited to Canio, obviously, although I found him less intense than he was the month before in Zurich.

In the third cast Canio was the Italian tenor Piero Giulacci. His voice is wide, but short of brightness. He is a good singer and well suited to the character, and a good actor let down only by his appearance. guess he has come to the operatic world at the wrong time.

The Spanish tenor José Ferrero was a pleasant surprise as Turiddu, with an attractive and quite homogeneous voice and one well suited to the role. He was quite tired at the ‘ La Mamma’ farewell and he should readily improve as an actor.

Both George Gagnidze and Vittorio Vitelli doubled as Alfio and Tonio, but not in the same evening. Gagnidze was better off in Cavalleria, and not too persusaive in Pagliacci, with some very nasal sounds. Vitelli offered only decibels in both cases. In the first cast Marco Di Felice was the best Alfio of the three, with a very pleasing voice, very well used while Andrzej Dobber was a rather weak Tonio. His voice is not well suited to this part, and its size is not enough.

Of the three Neddas, Olga Mykytenko was the best, with a fresh voice, perhaps rather too impersonal, but quite easy at the top. Hers was a very fortunate house debut. Inva Mula was also good, although I don’t believe that her voice has weight enough for the role and her highest notes are not as brilliant as formerly. Finally, in the first cast we had Angeles Blancas, whom I found in rather worrying vocal shape. She showed a poor center and a very tired top. Her operatic choices have been quite surprising in the last years and she has even sung Abigaile. She is however still a great actress.

In the secondary parts Ginger Costa-Jackson made a good Lola, better than Claudia Schneider in the same role. Mamma Lucia was played more than sung by Josephine Barstow. Victoria Livengood alternated with her and at least you could hear her in the theatre.

David Alegret was Beppe with too light and small a voice for his character while Albert Casals was a better suited vocally for the role. French baritone Jean-Luc Ballestra was a good Silvio, with an excellent voice, rather tight at the top. Sadly, he does not shine as an interpreter.

The Liceu was almost sold out every day. The final receptions were quite warm, with the biggest ovations awarded to Giordani, Cura, each of the Santuzzas and to Mykytenko.

These performances are dedicated to Jaime Aragall, commemorating the 50th anniversary of his debut at Liceu, in the role of Beppe. There is a photograph exhibition of the Catalan tenor and in one of them we can see a poker game, with Aragall, Pavarotti, a very young Carreras and Katia Ricciarelli. It doesn’t say who was the winner.

José Mª Irurzun