This recording of a popular and regular pairing of short operas was made in 2009 in Zurich. The only linking singer shared between both operas is the lead singer Jose Cura. Otherwise the two operas are put on with different casts. The chorus remains the same of course and the basic set for Cavalleria works remarkably well with circus lighting additions in Pagliacci.
There are some problems with this pair of performances which is why there has been such a divided response to them. There are those who do not warm to Cura's singing or acting which they find almost gibbering in effect. Conversely there are those who find it little short of gripping as regards his acting and have no problem with his singing. This is clearly going to be a matter of taste therefore and must therefore also lie beyond the reasonable scope of a reviewed judgement. As a guide though, I would have some sympathy with those who doubt the acting quality of the lead role at the start of both operas but I also found the conclusions fairly compelling with believable emotion.
In the case of Cavalleria this conclusion is greatly aided by the unyielding and revengeful Alfio as portrayed by Cheyne Davidson. The accumulative impact of Carlo Guelfi as Tonio in Pagliacci ought not to be underestimated either. Fiorenza Cedolins is less effective as an actress as Nedda here than she was in the more dramatic role of Tosca to be found on another disc. Silvio is sung well enough by Gabriel Bermudez but, as a romantically driven pair of lovers, this relationship seems to me to be a little lacking in `verismo'. Boiko Zvetanov makes a creditable job of his supporting role as Peppe.
Returning to Cavalleria, there is a pervading sense of gloom which is surely at odds with the celebration of Easter and all that that represents. Santuzza in particular is funereal in her dress and could hardly be described as likely to light anyone's fire. Paoletta Marrocu sings well enough but the setting and her appearance are not helpful. Lola as sung by Liliana Nikiteanu is more presentable in her minor role. Lucia performed by Irene Friedli is presented as a worn-out woman with drab clothing and washed out complexion with greyed hair and colourless lips. As a proposed future mother to this Santuzza, this is a pairing that is unlikely to give either any warmth or solace to look forward to.
The chorus in Cavalleria is also lacking in any sense of Easter joyfulness but is markedly better in Pagliacci and they are able to make a positive contribution to the anticipation of a comedy. Musically there are some ragged moments of co-ordination between the orchestra and the chorus that could be tighter.
The camera work is involving and the imaging is clear. The sound is presented in DTS 7.1 and stereo. The DTS option is cut at a very low level and needs a serious increase of volume if this recording is to come alive. This will result in sound of some impact otherwise it will sound dull and lifeless with recessed solo voices in Cavalleria especially. This is an easily solved problem though - just turn up the volume.
I personally enjoyed the Pagliacci throughout partly because I think it is the better opera and also because I think it received the better performance and production. The best part of Cavalleria was the last 15 minutes or so from the point where Alfio learns of his wife's infidelity and embarks upon his course of revenge. Everything holds well together from then onwards, although it still remains a mystery to me why Turiddu should ever have fallen for this Santuzza.
In summary therefore this is very much a mixed bag. There are certainly good parts but there are also disappointing or unbelievable aspects of casting or presentation, especially in Cavalleria. Bearing in mind those reservations I would hesitate to suggest more than 3 stars for this disc.