Monday, October 22, 2018

Cav 'n Pag at San Francisco Opera

(Started on September 25, alas!)

San Francisco Opera is a few weeks into a run of the perennial pairing of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. I last saw this twofer in the mid-1980s, and I remember almost nothing about it; however, a look at the SFO archive shows that it was the only time I saw Fiorenza Cossotto, about whom, right, I remember nothing.

I missed the last SFO bring-up some 15 years ago, but I do not remember why. Saving money? Wincing at the thought? Dismayed by the cast? Who knows?

This is, basically, The Set for both Cavalleria and Pagliacci.
Ekaterina Semenchuk (Santuzza) on the steps.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

After this round of verismo, as far as I am concerned, Cav should be mothballed, preferably in the same warehouse to which Gounod's Fault should be consigned. What a musical wreck! The piece has genuinely bizarre proportions, with a long prelude and hardly any singing in the first 20 minutes, and part-way through there's the famous Intermezzo. There's not much in the way of arias, either. Turridu, the lead tenor (I....can't bring myself to call him the hero, because he's a creep), gets an offstage aria right after the prelude, and an aria to his mother when he knows he's doomed. Santuzza, the wronged woman who is at the center of the tale, gets an aria. Lola, the third party, has a bit of singing to do, as does the baritone sorta-bad-guy. Mama Lucia helps move things along.

Honestly, do it as excerpts: that gets you maybe 12 minutes of really good music without the filler. (Faust has maybe 22 minutes of really good music!)

Such as it is, it got a decent performance, with Daniele Callegari, new to SFO, conducting well (the orchestra sounded lovely). Turridu was sung by the veteran tenor Roberto Aronica, who sounded worn, a bit wobbly, and utterly unsubtle, not that this stuff needs subtlety. (Really, like Andrea Chenier, this thing works best with a few big Italianate voices going at it hammer and tongs.) Ekaterina Semenchuk was a splendid Santuzza, singing with beautiful tone and sterling control. Jill Grove was a good Mama Lucia; Laura Krumm a pretty Lola. Making his local debut, baritone Dimitri Platanias made an excellent impression as Alfio.

Amitai Pati as Beppe, Lianna Haroutounian as Nedda and Dimitri Platanias as Tonio

 in Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci."

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

And Platanias carried the excellent impression over into Pagliacci, where he was in the excellent company of soprano Lianna Haroutounian as Nedda (Toni Marie Palmertree the night Haroutounian was ill), David Pershall (Silvio), and Amitai Pati (as Beppe, tag-teaming with Joel Sorensen the night I saw the show - Pati was unable to sing; Sorensen sang unobtrusively from various stage locals, a score concealed in a newspaper, while Pati acted the part - great job, you two excellent troupers!). Haroutounian was a delightful Nedda, Pershall a charming Silvio. Marco Berti was less wonderful as Canio.

So, the tenors were really the weak spot among the singers, and all I could think was - Canio and Turiddu both have Brian Jagde's name all over them, so why not get him off the Puccini beat for the season, cast him in this double bill, and hire somebody else for Cavaradossi? Well, what do I know, maybe he really is the only tenor in North American who can sing Cavaradossi. (I fall on the floor simultaneously laughing and crying at this notion.)

The production was nice to look at, and director José Cura had a cute idea about connecting the two operas. It didn't entirely work for me. I suppose there is a working class in Buenos Aires that might somehow be parallel to the rural farming folk of Cavalleria, but I didn't see it.

And that's all - I can stand to go another 30 years without this double bill and I really do not need to see Cav again, ever.


Darrick Chen said...

Hi Lisa,

I love reading your reviews. I hope one day you will come to love Richard Strauss as I do, but other than that, I think we like similar operas. Your commentary is always very fair and enlightening.

Reading this review, makes me feel better about missing Cav/Pag. Cavalleria was one of my favorite operas when I first started attending and listening to opera back in the 90s. I think it had catchy tunes and was relatively short. The fact that I loved the Godfather movies back then, made Cav all the more wonderful. That said, I have NEVER seen a live performance. I had tickets for the Fall production, but had to cancel at the last minute.

I am thinking that I will have to travel to see this one as SFO does it so rarely and I think the next time they present it, I'll probably be in a nursing home. LOL. I'm hoping to make it to the centennial season in a few years. I better go to an opera ball before I have to be wheeled in.

Anyway, to prepare myself for the SFO performance, I started listening to favorite Cav recordings, but I found myself skipping to the major set pieces. It seems I lost interest in the "filler." Unfortunate, as Cav isn't that long and when I first listened to it, I actually followed along with the score. Ah well, I guess I may have just outgrown it. Still it holds a place in my heart and hope one day to see it before it's too late. I think I'll hold off for a better cast and perhaps encourage myself to travel to a new opera house. But at this stage, I dislike air travel. I am just so happy SFO brings world class singers periodically.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know I enjoyed your comments; it made me feel less guilty of missing Cav again.

PS - any clue whats on for 2019/20? I heard the Steve Jobs opera is scheduled?? I'm guessing Parsifal will be penciled in for the summer. Other than that, ??.


Lisa Hirsch said...

Hi Darrick!

I need to get some press photos into this review, I realize. Later today, I hope.

I love Strauss! Maybe not as much as you, but I love Elektra, Ariadne, Frau, Salome (RECENTLY). Rosenkavalier, sometimes. :)

Cav is probably worth seeing....once..

I'm hoping that the Centennial season will be an appropriate blowout. Some of the giant operas, maybe a commission, a great lineup of famous singers.

The Future Seasons page has everything I have heard about what is coming up. Not guaranteed to be accurate!

Joshua Kosman said...

Great review. “Goethe’s Fault“ is too delectably apt a typo to correct.

Joshua Kosman said...

Oops. Gounod, not Goethe.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I am so totally not fixing that bug! er, typo!

(And thank you.)