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Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House – ‘mixed values’

Dimitri Platanias and Aleksandrs Antonenko in Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Catherine Ashmore Dimitri Platanias and Aleksandrs Antonenko in Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Catherine Ashmore
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Italian director Damiano Michieletto made his Covent Garden debut in June with a production of Rossini’s William Tell that caused a major scandal. Happily, his second show for the company, the iron-clad double-bill known to opera fans as Cav and Pag, is a much worthier contribution to the local repertoire. Even so, the latter works considerably better than the former.

Michieletto is not the first director to link the two operas, with their similar settings, by including the same characters and even the same singers in each: here beefy Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antonenko takes on both Turiddu in Cavalleria and Canio in Pagliacci, bellowing his way through both, and vocally on the sharp side. Dramatically, he’s a good deal more convincing as Canio.

Similarly, Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias appears as both Alfio in Cav and Tonio in Pag. Once again, he’s relentlessly loud, but his presence and dramatic strength see him through, especially in Leoncavallo’s opera. Meanwhile, Carmen Giannattasio, who sings and acts with real subtlety as Nedda, and (another Greek baritone) Dionysios Sourbis – an excellent Silvio – make necessarily silent appearances in Cav.

In neither opera is Michieletto’s work with the chorus distinguished, and Paolo Fantin’s sets revolve too often and to insufficient purpose; but he conveys the increasing tensions of Pagliacci, and its final twenty minutes are edge-of-the-seat stuff.

To a degree Cav is hampered by ordinary singing, not only from Antonenko but also from Eva-Maria Westbroek, who sings a blowsy Santuzza. But Martina Belli fleshes out sex-pot Lola perfectly and Elena Zilio is ideal casting as Mamma Lucia. Nevertheless, the evening’s first half is weak compared with what follows after the interval.

Accomplished as always, Antonio Pappano’s conducting possesses a real sense of style, though there are a few moments when the choral ensemble is distinctly untidy.

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Mixed values in Damiano Michieletto’s double-bill make for an unbalanced evening, with an ordinary Cavalleria succeeded by a knockout Pagliacci