These 1978 performances of Cav and Pag are arguably the best on the market. Sonically and visually better ones have appeared, but these have been restored and are just fine. It was back when "live" telecasts were recorded: this is a one-take event, without make-up sessions or splices from different evenings. "Live from the Met" telecasts had only begun the previous year and these were great events.
Franco Zeffirelli's productions have everything we might fear, love, despise, and expect: too many people on stage, ultra-real-looking townfolk, nuns, animals, and what one writer referred to as "the best poverty-stricken Sicilian village money can buy." The Easter Procession is a pip; the longRead more staircase to the church is superbly used, though I'm not sure about Santuzza's pantomime-of-grief during the prelude.
The Pag is less messy (although there are still acrobats and fire-eaters). It begins brilliantly, with Tonio in a blaze of circular lights against the Met's gold curtain, and goes on to a splendid "play scene", which is better to watch on video than it was in the house: it all takes place stage left, so those sitting on one side of the house missed most of it. TV director Kirk Browning solves the problem.
I doubt you'll see or hear a better show: James Levine, in his early prime, leads with respect for the music and the Verismo tradition and whips the action into a melodramatic frenzy; the Met Chorus and Orchestra already had been well-trained and they perform beautifully. Placido Domingo sings both tenor leads tirelessly, with bite, ringing tone, sincerity, and passion. You forget how "into" roles he used to get before he had sung them 400 times (the operas he kept finding "new" things in are Otello and Hoffman; late Cavaradossis and Canios have a sameness to them). He looks a bit young and virile for Canio here and doesn't yet have Turiddu's danger down pat, but this is a superstar in the making. But he reacts as well as acts; of course it helps that he's opposite two blazing women co-stars.
Tatiana Troyanos' Santuzza keeps glancing at Levine and that can distract, but get over it – the creamy, rock-solid voice, musical intelligence, and audible snarl are riveting. And in Pag, Domingo has Teresa Stratas, flawless, dreamy, nasty, and always natural to play against. In Cav, Vern Shinall is a forthright thug-Alfio and Jean Kraft a sour-puss Mamma Lucia, with Isola Jones sexing it up for Lola. In Pag, Sherrill Milnes sings magnificently; the Prologue brings the house down, but he's a bit hammy, acting for the house rather than the small screen. Still, no complaints. Allan Monk is a luxurious Silvio and James Atherton a mellifluous Beppe. Not perfect performances, but they will leave you breathless nonetheless.
– Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Attitudes towards Franco Zeffirelli’s productions are greatly divided. I am myself in two minds. His sets are lavish, colourful, sometimes breathtakingly so and there are always a lot of things happening. That said, it seems very often that background ‘affairs’ become so important that they divert interest from the main conflict. His Metropolitan
Turandot is that kind of spectacle: spontaneous applause from the audience at the mere sight of the sets. So impressive are they that the onlooker drowns in all the surrounding business and the story seems unessential. The effect at the beginning of
Cav is similar. The stage is filled with people carrying out sundry everyday chores; there is perpetual movement. What I like with Zeffirelli is that he respects the composer’s and librettist’s intentions. He never plays hokum with modernized sets or fancy costumes. He is honest - although over-the-top. Here the pictures are darkish and rather gritty which dilutes the effect a little. Once one has accepted the larger-than-life production one can safely relax and concentrate on the well known story, or rather savour the acting ability and the singing.
We notice that Turiddu’s
Siciliana in the middle of the prelude is uncommonly off-stage but can anyway enjoy Plácido Domingo’s healthy ring and beauty of tone. When the curtain rises it takes quite some time before the drama proper gets going and that’s a reason why Zeffirelli wants something spectacular to keep the audience happy. Santuzza is far from happy, suspecting that Turiddu is unfaithful. Alfio appears, still unaware of what’s happening behind his back. Vern Shinall, a baritone not previously known to me, has a grand voice but no nuances. Tatiana Troyanos, on the other hand, is glorious. She has a tendency to sing sharp when pressing the voice too hard at climaxes but she is a great actor and
Voi lo sapete is touching. Domingo, now appearing on stage for the first time, is a handsome Turiddu and is in luminous vocal shape. The duet with Santuzza is one of the highlights. Lola has little to sing but to make her a worthy rival to Santuzza she needs to be her vocal equal. Isola Jones in this role is cast from strength and I have heard few better.
The final scene, at Mamma Lucia’s tavern, is verismo at its most blatant. It needs a fully-fledged dramatic actor with histrionic powers. Domingo is as close to the ideal as possible. I remember Giuseppe Giacomini on a more than twenty-year-old Philips recording - recently reissued at budget price. He runs Domingo very close, but Domingo is in even sappier voice.
Mamma, quel vino e generoso is almost unbearably intense. Unfortunately what follows is a great blemish and this has nothing to do with Domingo or any of the people on stage and in the pit but is down to the audience. When Turiddu leaves the stage we know that within a minute we will hear the distant cries from a woman ‘Turiddu has been killed’. The charged atmosphere after Turiddu’s last notes is something to be savoured in silence. Not so the Metropolitan audience. They break the spell in no time through violent and ruthless applause and spoil the whole thing. A horrible anticlimax! If you can stomach this and accept Zeffirelli’s production and can stand an unsubtle but big-voiced Alfio, the performance is well worth seeing and hearing. Incidentally both Jones and Shinall made their Metropolitan debuts that evening.
Not many tenors have the stamina to sing both Turiddu and Canio on the same evening, but Domingo has. Besides the physical strain and wear on the vocal cords there is also the emotional strain. Domingo admirably steps into a new character during the interval and also manages to find another voice for Canio. His address to the people at the beginning of act I,
Mi accordan di parlar, is lighter and more lyrical, reminding me of the young Carlo Bergonzi in his 1951 recording of the opera for Cetra. A little further on
Un tal gioco is a shade darker, more dramatic but still with some
bel canto feeling. At the end of the act
Vesti la giubba is the deeply felt, big-boned, intense outpouring that few latter-day tenors have managed so convincingly. The end of the opera, when all mental barriers are gone, is terrific and horrifying. Domingo is not only one of the greatest of singers but his combination of singing and acting is unique.
He is in good company in this production. Many will remember Teresa Stratas in the 1984 film of
La traviata, where she was Violetta opposite Domingo’s Alfredo and with James Levine as here, conducting and Zeffirelli, as here, directing. She was also one of the great actors and her charisma is very tangible in the present production. Her aria,
Stridono lassù, swift and nuanced, is one highspot. The duet with Silvio, always my favourite scene in this opera, is another, with Alan Monk’s lyrical baritone a fine complement to the soprano. The bigger baritone role, Tonio, is superbly sung and acted by Sherrill Milnes, whose prologue is grandiose. James Atherton’s fine lyric tenor is perfect for Arlecchino’s serenade.
The sound is not in the same class as the performance but is acceptable. With a well-nigh perfect
Pagliacci and a slightly flawed
Cavalleria rusticana this is a good buy.
-- Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Cavalleria Rusticanaby Pietro Mascagni Performer:
Vern Shinall (Bass),
Tatiana Troyanos (Mezzo Soprano),
Placido Domingo (Tenor)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1890; Italy
I Pagliacciby Ruggero Leoncavallo Performer:
Teresa Stratas (Soprano),
Sherrill Milnes (Baritone),
Placido Domingo (Tenor)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1892; Italy
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Gold StandardAugust 13, 2013By Robert Elden (New York, NY)See All My Reviews"I have been indeed fortunate to have seen these two beautifully crafted Zeffirelli productions at the Met Opera on several occasions, including once with the singing artists presented on this DVD. The segue from live in the house to recorded action has been carried out with great care and has captured all of the design richness and attention to detail that I recall. All of the vocalists are splendid and at the zenith of their performing careers. Trust me, you'll not find a better Cav/Pag."Report Abuse