Her Santuzza had a match in Elena Zilio's Mamma Lucia, a magpie figure of matronly affection. Aleksandres Antonenko's Turiddu gave an admirable effort but I perhaps question the limits of his capacity for verismo opera; his tone, while beguilingly in its own way, is not quite full and is at danger of being too self-restrained. With the effervescent Tony Pappano coaxing the best sounds out of the orchestra that I have for long time from the pit below, the audience long to be swept away by an indescribable plethora of bloody colours, to hear the roar from the stage coincide the rising tempers. As Turiddu, he fell slightly short of such euphoria. But ultimately, it mattered very little; being the jewel that it is, Cavalleria Rusticana is an easy charmer. It benefits from having no 'central' number such as Vesti la giubba - after which everything and anything appears necessarily anti-climatic. There is no wasted exchanges, no 'filler' moments; everything flows, simple yet riveting.
Pagliacci had more shortcomings; though they were widely casting issues. Carmen Giannattasio I unfortunately failed to warm to; her Nedda had a barren and desiccant quality, oscillating uncomfortably from vulnerable to cruel to wanton. The contrast with Westbroek before her was illustrative; neither characters are truly sympathetic, but we lived Santuzza's despair, whereas Nedda's was disconnected. Antonenko gave a much improved turn as Canio; aside from slightly pre-empting his entries in vesti la giubba, there was a real maniacal edge to his performance and his final breakdown (no, Pagliaccio non son) was petrifyingly electric, laid bare on a converted gym hall stage. Tonio (Dimitri Platanias) was invigorating, if slightly unremarkable, and Dionysios Sourbis' Silvio was a pleasant surprise, adding weight and pathos to the role.
Yet, there was much to admire in the staging, which was more adventurous than Cavalleria Rusticana. There was something perversely gripping about the school gym / village hall set up that seemed to grasp the bleakness of the drama. The faint ridiculousness that this great, sordid story is unravelling amidst monkey bars and school assembly rooms only accentuates the sense of voyeurism that pervades the opera, further knowingly directed at the end when Tonio, speaking to the real life, not stage, audience, declares with twisted triumph "the comedy is finished!" and we realise that it is in our faces that the lights are directed. In the pit, Pappano continued his wonderful work, finding joy and voice in one of opera's most ravishing scores, truly embodying every ounce of Italianate blood within him. He, together with Michieletto and Westbroek, are the makings of these alluring new productions.
* E.M Foster's Where Angels Fear to Tread