Opera review: Double bill

High performance level, minimal variety in Israeli Opera's opening double bill of Cavalleria and Pagliacci.

Cavalleria (photo credit: Courtesy of Yossi Zwekter)
(photo credit: Courtesy of Yossi Zwekter)
The conventional double bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci opened the season of the Israeli Opera. Composed at the same time and place, in the same style, for the same contest, and on the same theme of male jealousy and murder, these two provide little variety. The high level of the performance, though, contributed some compensation.
Cavalleria was preceded, for some strange reason, by the overture of Pagliacci. The only plausible explanation for this absurd mix-up that comes to mind is the wish to confuse the unsuspecting audience, faithful to the principle of “the customer is always wrong.”
Director Giancarlo del Monaco-Zukerman’s staging and Johannes Leiacker’s sets were transposed from the Teatro Real Madrid. Consequently, they were already old acquaintances for viewers of the Mezzo television channel.
Cavalleria’s set was agreeably abstract, demonstrating modernism and leaving room for the audience’s imagination. This approach could profitably have been applied also to the killing scene, letting it occur backstage, as is being done in some European performances, and therefore justifying the excited outcry “Turridu has been killed!” Instead, this information was rendered superfluous by letting the killing happen visibly, and unappetizingly, on stage.
Pagliacci’s set, on the other hand, was more conventional and realistic, allowing the audience’s imagination to get some well-deserved rest. The choir functioned in both operas effectively by milling around on the stage to create liveliness and movement. There was much throwing around of chairs and tables in Pagliacci, for the sake of persuasive dramatic effect.
In Cavalleria, Tatiana Anisimova convincingly conveyed Santuzza’s hysterical torment and love, though sometimes too theatrically to be credible, with her expressive, warm soprano. It sometimes became screechy, however, on the higher notes in moments of excitement. As Turrido, Scott Piper drastically impersonated the pestered lover. His tenor sounded routine in the Drinking Song, but warmed up to moving emotional expression in his Farewell Aria. Paolo Gavanelli, as Alfio in Cavalleria and Tonio in Pagliacci, displayed a forceful, hollering baritone, as appropriate for these disagreeable characters.
In Pagliacci, Gustavo Porta as Canio emerged as a tenor of stature, with his rich, flexible voice profoundly expressing his tempestuous, tragic sentiments with fierce intensity. His aria, “Vesti la giuba,” was one of the performance’s highlights. As Nedda, Ira Bertman’s enchanting, bright soprano was a pure delight.
The Israeli Opera Chorus played a significant part in the performance, sounding cohesive and involved in the action.
David Stern, conducting the Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion, displayed a well developed sense of musical drama, competently creating the required atmosphere for every scene.