Bravo Cura

Celebrating José Cura--Singer, Conductor, Director

 

 

 

Operas:  Pagliacci

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Liege

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cavalleria rusticana and Paglicci Curtain Call

Liege, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cast

Musical direction : Paolo ARRIVABENI
Direction & Set : José CURA
Costumes : Fernand RUIZ
Lighting : Olivier WÉRY


Chorus master : Marcel SEMINARA
Orchestra and Chorus : Opéra Royal de Wallonie


Turriddu : José CURA
Santuzza : Marie KALININE
Alfio : Elia FABBIAN
Lola : Alexise YERNA
Mamma Lucia : Mady URBAIN
Canio / Pagliaccio :  José CURA
Nedda / Colombina : Sofia SOLOVIY *
Tonio / Taddeo : Marco DANIELI *
Prologue : Philippe ROUILLON
Beppe / Arlecchino : Enrico CASARI
Silvio : Gabriele NANI
Primo Contadino : Alexei GORBATCHEV
Secondo Contadino : Carmelo DE GIOSA
Choir school : Opéra Royal de Wallonie

 

 

About the opera

Cavalleria Rusticana is considered the leading Italian veristic melodrama in that it portrays the feelings of common people, in this instance villagers and artisans. This key work in the history of opera gives opera its official role as a popular show through a tragic, simple and powerful plot.

Mascagni, then aged 27, has created a genuine masterpiece : there is nothing to dilute the slow, gradual tension leading to the final murder. Neither the power of the images evoked by the orchestra, which depict the myriad nuances of the countryside, the evening or the sunrise, nor each of the soloists' arias, genuine strokes of genius expressing the turmoil and violence of the most profound passions.

Pagliacci is a very short opera (barely more than an hour) in which the spectator is called, in a prologue, to distinguish truth from falsehood, reality from fiction. Here, the paradox of the actor (expressing emotions which he does not feel) finds its full power. This is why the greatest tenors appreciate this role.

 

 

"To me, the modernity comes from the interpretation and from the way everyone, from the leading protagonist to the very last chorus artist, brings all the characters to life."    José Cura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Opera Liege site: Rencontre

José Cura is a bit like a "Swiss army knife": versatile and efficient. Indeed, the Argentine artist is investing a lot of energy and emotion in several different disciplines and technical spheres of the stage: conducting (his initial training), singing (he is one of the greatest present-day tenors) and also the staging and the construction of the set, for which he signs responsible here at the Opera Royal de Wallonie with regard to Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci.

"I'm not a megalomaniac, even if some may think I am, but life is too short- and artistic life even more so- to let it go by from the sideline, if one has abilities and the opportunities to use them." José Cura converses freely and easily about his métier. "My wish is to bring to the stage what my curiosity, bolstered by years of experience and research, motivates me to actualize," he explains. And if he meets with success, he will be delighted.

"In fact, if you do not take risks, you do not advance. One must dare to row against the current; it's a way to grow stronger." Being in two places at once, doing two things at once, does not prevent him from working on excellent terms with all those who "make" the show: from musicians to stagehands. "Everyone is important and, as far as concerns me, I listen with equal interest to the chief technician, who may have a lot of advice, and a supernumerary.

Of course, he also applies this style to his directing work. 

"I am convinced- and I am not in fact the only one- that the opera has to be dusted off and modernized. It is not, however, merely by bringing a Harley-Davidson on stage that this will happen, because that may well be nothing but an outward show. To me, the modernity comes from the interpretation and from the way everyone, from the leading protagonist to the very last chorus artist, brings all the characters to life."

(translation: MB)
 
Le SOIR: Editorial Opinion

 

Inviting Jose Cura to stage Mascagni's "Cavalleria rusticana" and Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci", two one-act verismo dramas often referred to as "Cav-Pag" since they are usually performed on the same evening, the ORW has pulled off a fine move.

First of all, because the Argentine tenor has managed to merge the evening's two works in beautiful temporal and spacial continuity. The set is a replica of the scenic Caminito alleyway in the heart of the Italian Quarter of la Boca in Buenos Aires. And all the characters in the course of the two operas live there.  The realism is immediate, powerful and poignant, tastefully colored, but without excessive local color. Each character steps out of the crowd there in the Quarter or arrives uninvited like the comedians of Canio's troupe.

And it works, from start to finish, with a bandoneon player taking care to ensure nostalgic continuity by playing during the intermission whereas the two composers monitor the on-stage show, Mascagni incognito and Leoncavallo by appropriating the famous recitative of the prolog to "Pagliacci". The same caring and concern can be seen again with regard to the singers and their exact and honest embodiment:   Marie Calinine's Santuzza, all-consumingly ardent; Elia Fabian's Alfio, arrogant and dark; Alexia Yerna's Lola, tantalizing; Sofia Sloviy's Nedda, a bit a distraught wild animal; Gabriele Nani's Silvio, timid and bashful. A special mention goes to Maddy Urban's Mamma Lucia, sober and serious, the only person to keep a cool head in the midst of these tumultuous passions. There's still the twofold embodiment by Jose Cura himself  of the jaunty spoiled child and the soul-stirring actor, deposed and finished, with an impressive lower range, a haunting middle range, and a valiant top:  a meeting of a brilliant display of passion and heroism. But what is particularly striking is the humanness of two of the characters: Turiddu's  anguished remorse, Canio's solitary distress are emotions that hit dead center (bull's eye) because the passions continually mirror a reality, omnipresent in everything done on stage.

 

But what is particularly striking is the humanness of two of the characters: Turiddu's  anguished remorse, Canio's solitary distress are emotions that hit dead center (bull's eye) because the passions continually mirror a reality, omnipresent in everything done on stage.

Precise passion is found in the unified commitment of the choir. But also in the fiery and wild bursts, the devastating tenderness and spontaneous cheerfulness of Paolo Arrivabeni's orchestra. He takes the full measure of the pit and manages to have beautiful rapport stage-pit, pervading the auditorium of the Royal Theater.

(rough translation: MB)

 

 

Cav & Pag in Liege

 

 

 

Review

 

 

"Cavalleria/Pagliacci": intelligent and creative

 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Der Opernfreund

Manfred Langer

 

Performance on 02.12.2012 (the last). Premiere on 17.11.2012

José Cura: traditional, but creative and without stereotyping in his mise-en-scène

If one longs to recover from the stress and strain of the German 'Regietheater', the thing to do is to visit one of the opera houses in neighboring French-speaking countries; that's where material is brushed against the grain only on rare occasions and most certainly not such (material) as that of the popular double bill by Mascagni and Leoncavallo. José Cura has now staged those two at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie, and as a distinguished singer of verismo tenor arias, has also taken on the two tenor leads himself.  Within the framework of this production's handsomely illustrated scene (he also designed the stage set!), he has carried out a number of ideas that are really original. First of all, the Argentine Cura locates the two stories in the same place, on Caminito in Buenos Aires, in whose medley of colors a small street with Mamma Lucia's pub is reconstructed on the left. In the background, there is a plain, wooden church building; on the right, a colorfully painted wall; in between, a small raised platform and the outdoor chairs of the pub. The time of the action is the beginning of the 20th century, a decade of quite heavy Italian immigration to Argentina, mainly into the big cities of the North. Thus, the production already has an appropriate logical superstructure. 

Play-acting begins even before the music starts. Pietro Mascagni is leaning against a wall of the restaurant and watching the lively scene on the small square; the sound of screaming and squabbling comes out of the houses. On Caminito, Mascagni gets his inspiration for a verismo opera. In some cases, the cast members of the second part, the Pagliacci, can also already be identified as silent participants, just as the cast members of Cavalleria remain on stage as silent participants in Pagliacci. This concept makes for great interlocking of the two operas, something that is strengthened even more by the transition from one opera to the other. After Turiddu's sad demise, the crowd goes into the church; in front of it, in the square, a bandoneon player sits on the open stage during the entire intermission, playing pretty much everything between Schubert and tango. At the beginning of Pagliacci, Leoncavallo also comes on stage. It is he, not Tonio, who takes on the rendering of the prolog, the credo of Verismo. A splendid idea, which, however, requires an extra singer who afterwards is mere staffage. Prior to that, Turiddu's coffin is carried out of the church; same place; similar dreadful happenings up to the "La commedia è finita". Mamma Lucia, now a silent player, is still serving folks in her café…. The role of one of the two farmers in Pagliacci as a policeman in a nice blue uniform was done with irony. He naturally had already appeared in Cavalleria, where he was just as ineffective a law enforcement agent as in the second part… 

These days, it is no longer quite so easy to achieve the same effect as fifty or even a hundred years ago with these perhaps most typical examples among the verismo operas that have survived in the repertoire. But José Cura has definitely done it with his adaptation. It is not only the logical, convincing staging concept of interlocking the two operas plus naturally also the nice décor and costumes (Ferdinand Ruiz signed for the pleasing, vividly expressive costumes) that contribute, but also the perfect (hands-on stage) craftsmanship. From the seemingly casual movement of the choruses to the detailed directing of individuals and the many staging ideas, the craftsmanship, too, impresses as being inspired and sensitive. Cura proves that with clarity, inspiration and delight in detail it is definitely still possible to stage a work in a traditional manner and be of interest to the audience.

Paolo Arrivabeni, music director of the Opéra Royal de Wallonie, was the evening's conductor, whose orchestra played brilliantly. Arrivabeni had not been looking for subtleties in the score of Cavalleria, but let things ring out rather with a vengeance- well, just as an Italian opera orchestra would. It was the score of Pagliacci that really had substantially more to offer to the discerning ear. In the big choral scenes, a bit more precision would definitely have been desirable.

Considering the singers, they were naturally eclipsed by José Cura's extremely powerful dark tenor, which has, however, been heard at times with more radiance in the high notes. He sang the part of Turiddu as well as that of Canio/Pagliaccio. Cast as Santuzza was Marie Kalinine, who had beautiful intimate and heartfelt passages but sadly also some edge to her voice in the robust high notes. Elia Fabbian fashioned the role of Alfio with down-to-earth, unrefined, and mean-sounding baritone: a vocal casting typical for the role. With the young mezzo-soprano Alexise Yerna, a wonderfully supple and well-focused voice was summoned for Lola. The contralto Mady Urbain convinced as Mamma Lucia. With good stage presence, all those responsible for specific roles in Cavalleria as well as in Pagliacci showed themselves top-of-the-line in their acting, distinctly more so than what is in any case expected today. -- In Pagliacci, the Nedda/Colombina of Sofia Soloviy with her very well controlled, youthful dramatic soprano, left nothing to be desired. Philippe Rouillon as "Leoncavallo" presented the prolog in a sonorous cultivated baritone voice with optimal textual intelligibility. Gabriele Nani sang Silvio with beautiful, bright-sounding baritone; and as Beppe/Arlecchino, Enrico Casari pleased very well with the samples of his clean lyric tenor voice; however, as Tonio/Taddei, Marco Danieli's baritone was not able to attain the high level of those mentioned above.

The Sunday afternoon audience in the packed hall of the Liege Opera House did have its quirks. Before the performance began, it was announced that the production would be filmed and recorded, and the audience was asked to refrain from applause for scenes and to be especially quiet. That, however, did not keep some specimens of the "tussator vulgaris"  (i.e. common concert cougher) variety from engaging in a competition for the loudest coughing. The director's request with respect to the applause was also ignored, perhaps for the simple reason that not everyone in the audience understood French. But at the end one could really cheer wholeheartedly; the audience made its enthusiasm known in a 20-minute ovation. Well, let's see how the DVD turns out.

(translation MB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review

 

 

The raw meat of passion

(Raw passion)

Aachener Zeitung

Guido Rademachers

21 November 2012

Liege (Lüttich). Opera director Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera must have a mobile phone with a most interesting 'contacts' file. Time and again he succeeds in bringing singers of world-renown to Liege. José Cura is one of them. The Argentine, who is evolving from a star tenor into a 'stage-all-rounder', is making his third guest appearance just now at the Opéra Royal de Wallonie.

This time, he sings, acts, directs and does the stage design for  'Cav and Pag', the veritable twins of Italian operatic verismo: Pietro Mascagni's "Cavalleria rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci".

Only the conducting is still taken on by someone else for now, by Paolo Arrivabeni, and one really needs to say euphorically: What a homogenous (body of) sound the Liege music director moulds with the orchestra, what lightness and yet what accuracy he achieves; what emotionality he elicits from both short operas without using any showy effects-- that is outstanding, to be sure.

José Cura's approach is different. Only on two brief occasions does he yank the Pagliaccio-mask off his face, but that's when one seems to catch a glimpse of the raw flesh of emotion. Everything is direct, unmitigated expression. The wild, the excessive, the being-in-turmoil remains Cura's constant companion, even in restraint; thus a scathing glance, a tender gesture, an abrupt turning away suffices for the almost 50-year-old to conjure up with small gestures the great drama about love, jealousy, infidelity and murder. 

Well-cast ensemble

Also in his singing, Cura aims for the existential, the cry or shout. Surrounded by an ensemble, well cast without exception (with a big exclamation point behind the name of the young baritone Elia Fabbian as Alfio), the unmistakable quality of Cura's voice finally blossoms out in the overwhelming forte of the well-known arioso "Ridi, Pagliaccio". The sobbing, the scooped notes. Here what at other times is suspected of being Kitsch,  attests to the top grade special category of this exceptional singer.

In his staging, Cura shifts the action to the beginning of the 20th century, a short time after the composition of the opera. On an Italian piazza he skillfully interlocks the two works into an opulent local epic, a Sicilian small-town saga. In the end they say: 'La commedia è finita". The Liege audience, applauding enthusiastically, will surely remember the evening still for a somewhat longer time.

 

 

 

 

 

Cav and Pag in Liège

 

Discovery is exciting--and never more so than when you find the new in the old. 

We travelled to Liège to view two operas we had seen too often in too many locales and in too many productions: the eternally paired verismo operas in which a young man dies for honor and then a young woman dies for dishonor is a staple in opera houses around the world. The staging always seemed fatally proscribed by a libretto and score from which too many directors seemed unable to distill anything crystalline or introduce any new possibilities—indeed, there seemed a finite number of ways to present Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.  We had come to believe that the sisters would always be boring, mundane, and predictable, dependent solely on the lead characters to overcome the inevitable ennui of the staging.  And so we travelled for the joy of seeing José Cura in a role he had owned for so many years, the role of Canio, the lost soul so misunderstood by so many directors.  We travelled for Cura the singer who could spin magic through the intensity of his performance and persuade through the hue and heft of his voice.  We travelled for one of the great singing actors of our time but returned having discovered a man who could well become one of its greatest directors.

It would have be easy for Cura to adapt his staging from any of the dozen or so Cav/Pag productions he had performed in, to accept the tried and true and risk little;  to do so, however, would have been to deny the essential motivation that has informed Cura’s career.  This is a man, oft ridiculed for the expansiveness of his endeavors, who seems possessed by the need to develop his interests and talents and passions, to follow his God-given abilities wherever they may lead, to engage outwardly in the pursuit of fulfillment.  It is not an easy path.  Success in never assured yet anything less can be devastating--Cura perseveres to synthesize his diverse experiences to create new artistic visions.  So it was in Liège, the second Cura production we have seen and the first, in our opinion, to fuse the score, libretto, staging, and performance into a perfect whole.

Though we begin with Cavalleria rusticana, Cura’s staging of this independent opera becomes so intertwined with its companion Pagliacci that it in fact becomes the first act of an extended, integrated tragedy.  Both operas take place in the same location, innovatively reset to the Caminito in the La Boca barrio of Buenos Aires, an area noted for its Italian heritage but with the vibrancy of the new world; the setting allows Cura to pay homage to his homeland in the use of vivid colors (including those found in the Argentine flag) and the incorporation of uniquely Argentine elements like the tango. The splendid isolation of the Italian community clinging to homeland traditions in the middle of a ‘foreign’ land underscores the ‘rustic gentleman’ solution of Cav and adds poignancy to the love story between Silvio and Nedda.

The set is a wonderful amalgam of visual simplicity and functional complexity.  In structure, the stage is a triangle, a universe contained within a line of businesses and apartments on one side, an apex of a plain, wooden church, and a final line of colorfully painted wall.  Mamma Lucia’s cantina is constructed at the front (stage) left.  Above her pub is Lola’s apartment, complete with balcony facing the audience and window facing the town square; this structure allows Cura to unveil the characters of Lola and Alfio, largely through pantomime, adding much needed depth to Cav’s fragile story and providing a unifying narrative bridge between the two operas.  The town square is a raised platform in the middle, an element giving texture to the open space and allowing for the integration of village life as background to the broader narrative. The primary action takes place among the tables and chairs of Mamma’s cantina, with Cura fashioning a graceful choreography of people and props.  An impressive amount of ‘sky’ in the background allows for time to pass; day and night chase each other with beautifully rendered lighting.  

 One of Cura’s most successful conceits was to create a living, dynamic community of interesting people who exist outside the Mascagni and Leoncavallo plot lines; before the principles ever appear on stage we are introduced to a variety of characters whose lives will intersect with Santuzza and Turridu, Nedda and Canio throughout the evening and with varying impact.  The street sweeper, the business man, the battling spouses, the priest, the town drunk, each play a critical role in establishing the validity of the stage reality.  These extras, some of whom are singers with the company and others who are silent actors, add brilliant color to the tapestry Cura is weaving.  By reminding us that tragedy surrounds us in the nooks and crannies of our lives, Cura empowers the expression of verismo in a natural, humanistic fashion.

  

 

La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cavalleria rusticana in Liege

Sights without sounds.  The curtain rises as the secrets of night prepare to give way to truths of day.  These minutes before the music begin offer director Cura a chance to effortlessly establish the enjoined nature of both stories and give hints of the double tragedies ahead:  in silence the opera in front of us is neither Cav nor Pag but a promise of an extraordinary rethinking of both.  Lola and Turiddu, laughing and loving on the balcony above Mamma’s cantina, look on approvingly as shy, uncertain Silvio and unhappy, needy Nedda begin their romance. In due time Turiddu leaves the balcony, reappearing below to catch the hat Lola tosses to him; he hands Silvio the keys to the cantina before disappearing into the background, a prophetic passing of responsibilities and a locking together the fate of both men. 

But Cura is not yet finished setting the stage.  The street-sweeper cleans the remnants of the past, the priest emerges to nurture the town drunk, a couple appear to bicker in a window—the stories of Santuzza and Turiddu and Silvio and Nedda are just two of many threads in the tapestry of this town and Cura is making an early and emphatic statement that his staging is as much about community as it is about individuals.  The music swells as Pietro Mascagni arrives to observe, the artist watching his story play out, powerless to stop it; the composer will remain on set for the length of the opera.

The Siciliana is treated as more than a pastoral love song:  it is used to illuminate Lola’s dark nature.  As Turiddu’s voice rises, Lola moves to the window overlooking the town square, reveling in her power over him. When Santuzza appears a few windows down, pulled by the sound of the man she loves, Lola delights in Santuzza’s frustration and pain; her hold on Turiddu seems as much about ownership and sense of entitlement as it is about love.

Cura takes the time to introduce the village during Gli aranci olezzano sui verdi margini.  Silvio is the conscientious, obedient son to Mamma Lucia that Turiddu can never be; the village people, preparing for the Easter ceremony to come, are good-natured neighbors who give coins to the town drunk and help reunite the quarreling couple. And Mamma Lucia doesn’t pull away from Santuzza when the young woman tries to tell her she has slept with Turiddu--her heart is too big for that.  Instead, their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Alfo and it is only with the introduction of the teamster that a truly negative texture is added to the otherwise happy town.  As he boasts about his work (Il cavallo scalpita), Lola is on her balcony blowing kisses and making suggestive movements toward her husband--she enjoys her dangerous game as much as her husband enjoys his position in town. 

The Easter hymn is simply and beautifully staged, with the procession coming from the church to set the holy image inside a niche in the wall—the love of God isn’t confined to the space within a building even if the conventions of the Church work to keep some outside.  And when the crowd leaves Santuzza to enter that structure, the town drunk, also unable to enter the church, attempts to reach out to the living spirit he finds within the woman. 

Turiddu and Santuzza are not alone during their initial confrontation:  Lola watches from her apartment, increasingly concerned that Santuzza’s pleas might move the honorable Turiddu.  She hurries downstairs to remind Turiddu of what he risks losing and after having re-establishing ownership, she heads into church—though not before pulling a number of bills from her purse, waving them in the air and then throwing them into the outstretched hat of the drunk that until then had captured only coins. Lola isn’t about to let anyone forget her wealth, her status, and her entitlement.

Once Turiddu follows Lola into the church, Santuzza is once more supported by the drunk, who offers the one thing he holds valuable, his wine bottle.  This time she takes it and drinks long. When Alfio returns and with her self control momentarily lost, she tells him his wife has been unfaithful.  Alfio's rage scares her but she tries to calm him. Unable to undo what she has done, Santuzza runs off.

The Intermezzo takes on additional impact when Cura stages a reenactment of the opening scene, with ‘Turiddu’ coming once more from ‘Lola’s’ apartment, but this time the action in mimed through dance, a tango choreographed to Cura’s design.  Beautiful in its sensual lines, touching in its simple emotion, deadly in ‘Lola’s’ final, fatal thrust, the Intermezzo compresses the opera into a few haunting moments of revelation.

The denouncement comes quickly: Alfio and Turiddu confront each other, Turiddu bids a tearful farewell to his mother, relying on her good heart to embrace Santuzza as the daughter she would have had were he a better son, and runs off to be killed. The community comes together in their grief.  Mascagni mourns.

And yet….the opera doesn’t end, any more than the town disappears or the people cease to exist.  For Cura, life continues without break and the death of Turiddu was just one tragic event in a cycle.  Life goes on. And so as the stage lights dim and night comes upon the town, a bandoneón player takes his place on stage to connect the two operas, to reinforce the continuity of all things.

Take-away:  The set design was a brilliant fusion of old and new world that allowed Cura to mix elements from both to create a wonderful dynamic.  He invested time and effort with the chorus and the supernumeraries to create a living, breathing environment in which to insert his stories.  He brilliantly choreographed the action, bringing the drama front and center but never forgetting to fill the interstices with the real sense of life—there was never a moment without activity, without purpose.  It was a breathtaking suspension that was so compelling the audience was loathed to leave the auditorium during the intermission (during which the bandoneón player continued to play). 

The addition of Mascagni to oversee the opera seemed at first a risk but was ultimate a successful conceit:  the composer was every one of us in the audience, aware of the trajectory of the story but unable to stop the inevitable.  He channeled our emotions in silence, his expression mirroring our feelings.

The early introduction of Silvio (and Nedda) gave the character a much needed history, adding an overall pathos to Pag.  His quiet, conservative, dedicated approach to work, his attention and devotion to Mamma Lucia before Turiddu’s death and afterwards, make us care for this young man and ultimately adds even greater pain to the ending.      

The actor who played the drunk deserves special mention (as does Cura for including him); the outcast accepted by the townspeople in turn became the protector of the outcast who has not yet been embraced.  This unexpected performance added a layer of continuity and compassion to an opera that can sometimes suffer from flatness.

The tango ballet:  bravo!  What a brilliant, original use of time and space in the opera!  If only other directors would be as inventive and allow them to think outside the proverbial box!

The performance from the principles:  In spite of persistent illness among the cast, the intensity of the leads, the attention to detail, and the delivery of the music remained at the highest quality. 

Director Cura: his care and concern and compassion and understanding of this work were evidence from the opening moments.  His attention to detail was outstanding.  His placement of character, his balance between action and inaction, his inclusion of nuance that added the necessary depth this opera needed was remarkable.  His innovation was never introduced without purpose.  This staging is one that should travel, and there are a lot of well-established, highly successful directors who could learn much in examining the work Cura has done in Liege.  I’m already looking forward to the next….  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the best possible situation, Director Cura would have continued his thought-through tale of Turiddu and Canio without a break, reinforcing the continuity of life (and death) in this small Argentine village.  The reality is that neither the artists on stage nor the audience in their seats could go without at least a short break so the inventive Cura links the two stories by continuing in a way that rings true:  Turiddu has been killed, the sun has set, the villagers (audience) have left to mourn--but Mascagni and the bandoneónist remain on stage, curtain up, while the moon traverses the sky. Torn between staying or leaving, the audience feels the same emotional ambiguity as the villagers.   And returning to the music of the bandoneón returned us instantly to the mood. Pain and loss surround us but life goes on just as surely as night passes and dawn breaks.

But Cura has one more reality to share:  the funeral procession for Turiddu.  Moving it to the start of Pag disrupts continuity of time--in spite of the note in the surtitles that six months passes by the end of the prologue--but there is no truly elegant way to include this critical moment.  And Cura stages it brilliantly, timing it perfectly to the music, allowing Mascagni to bid adieu to the rustic gentleman he was unable to save, showing Silvio as Mamma's de facto son escorting the grieving mother to the cemetery, permitting Santuzza to trail behind as the outsider while Lola watches from her balcony. 

Finally, another surprise:  Leoncavallo arrives on stage to sing the Prologue to the attentive Mascagni.  In the context of Cura's vision, it seemed perfectly natural for the composer to set the stage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continuity - Funeral of Turiddu  begins Pagliacci

 

Artistic hand-off:  Mascagni and Leoncavallo

 

 

Foreshadowing - Silvio and Nedda exchange glances

 

The troupe arrives while old friend look on (Santuzza in the doorway...)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continuity .... Alfio and Lola look on

 

 

 

Tonio

 

 

Tension between Nedda and Canio

 

 

The community welcomes the travelers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alfio and Lola greet Canio

 

 

Canio encounters Silvio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nedda seeks comfort from other members of the troupe

 

 

 

 
 

In staging his Pagliacci in Liege, José Cura made the radical decision to put the man behind a mask, literally and figuratively.  For most of the performance, the character's face remained a visual cipher--a dangerous ploy for an actor in a profession that too often relies on exaggerated facial expressions to convey meaning.  To bring his Canio to life, then, Cura relied on body and voice to build a believable and sympathetic character.  He held his torso still, erect;  his movements were slow, deliberate.  Eye contact, when made, was measured and held. Removing gloves was a studied ballet.  Everything about this man was made to appear supernaturally calm, controlled, dignified; it is only as the opera develops that we see this exacting restraint as an act of willpower from a man as damaged emotionally as his face was physically.   The beautifully choreographed moments with Mamma Lucia once Canio removed his mask and finally allowed the audience to see the pain and loneliness hidden behind it was more than a moment of remarkable theater;  it was a moment of uncommon humanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Details, details, details…and yet all invisible—is one of the most intriguing and enticing attributes of José Cura’s direction.  He must have worked the cast for days to create the sense of vital community and genuine camaraderie evidenced on the stage:  the interaction between the men and women and children who moved effortlessly around the stage was undoubtedly carefully choreographed but seemed perfectly organic and real; one sensed that Cura had built a life story that each had internalized so thoroughly that they would have easily have stayed in character and moved freely had something gone wrong.   Larger opera houses would do well to take note. 

The follow-through was noticeable in the smallest of details as with the photo of Canio.  When he first enters Mamma Lucia’s cantina, he signs a black and white glossy; later that evening, it had joined the other photos on the wall.  Nor did Cura forget to tie up the loose ends from Cav.  Santuzza, now heavily pregnant and living with Mamma Lucia, is still being watched over by the town drunk but has integrated back into the community.  Lola survived the adulterous relationship with Turiddu but suffers the brutality of Alfio, displaying the bruises of a battered wife and the despair of a woman who has lost hope.  Alfio has become an outcast:  Mamma won’t allow him into her cantina and the crowd that gather to watch Canio boo him. 

Finally, Cura dared to reimage the framework of the opera, assigning the opening prologue to the composer and the final words to the one person on stage who had lost the most:  Mamma Lucia.  Simply brilliant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Updated:  Friday, July 17, 2015  © Copyright: Kira