The Dutch National Opera opens the 2019/2020 season with Pagliacci / Cavalleria Rusticana. In this Italian double hit, Robert Carsen plays an ingenious game with reality.
It was a start of the season in which we also met the new chief conductor who after this season (Marc Albrecht has his last year with DNO) will make his appearance in the Amsterdam opera house. With the young Lorenzo Viotti (he is only 30 years old), the Dutch National Opera has brought in new talent. A conductor who, with his early debut for DNO (prospective conductor Mark Elder had to cancel due to health reasons), immediately left an unforgettable impression. After Ingo Metzmacher, an advocate of 20th-century opera, and Marc Albrecht, a specialist in scorching (late-) romantic repertoire, the Dutch National Opera is recruiting with Viotto a conductor who has hitherto mainly 19th-century Italian repertoire under his belt. In addition to his first performance for DNO, received with reviews written in accolades, let's hope that Viotto's preferences will not lead to an overly conservative choice of programme and that his traverses in German and more modern repertoire will lead to just as much success as his triumphal march along this Leoncavallo / Mascagni double bill.
He played a game with the perception of the audience and directed in this way not only the emotion but also made an explicit appeal to the mind. In Pagliacci it is not entirely clear to what extent protagonist Canio can distinguish reality from performance, and Carsen makes this diffuse boundary between reality and theatre the starting point of his production. He changed the usual order of the two operas, making Pagliacci a piece that was performed in the theatre where the cast of Cavalleria Rusticana was preparing to sing in an Easter Mass. This choice helped Cavalleria to become the somewhat surprising musical winner of the evening. Pagliacci, sparkling and grim, was the support act for a sultry high mass in Cavalleria in which a tapestry of heavenly close-harmony singing was unfolded. An exercise in choral singing led by Ching-Lien Wu, who played herself, in which the choir turned from their usual role as spectator and commentator into a protagonist and excelled - perhaps even more than it usually does in productions for DNO.
It worked like a two stage missile. Pagliacci became - with an excellent Brandon Jovanovich in the role of Canio - a first highlight that just after the intermission only seemed to be the prelude for Cavalleria Rusticana. Canio and the people he killed, Nedda and Tonio, turned out to be just actors. The murders before the intermission were just part of a piece of theatre-in-a-theatre. It made Pagliacci a kind of support act - a role that Cavalleria Rusticana usually plays when these two operas are paired - which did not mean that what was presented to us in Pagliacci was stripped of its emotional gravity. Pagliacci presented as a performance-in-a-performance did not diminish the involvement of the viewer any less as the credits of a movie do when we, the audience, are reminded that the personages we saw were only actors.
This Pagliacci / Cavalleria Rusticana goes meta, appeals to the mind so that the emotion lingers longer. At the Dutch National Opera it may have been since Simon McBurney's staging of Raskatov's A Dog's Heart that a production gave such added value to text and music. One can only hope that the rest of the new opera productions this season will have something of the originality and inventiveness of this one. It was about the dynamics of theater and not about the grandeur of visuals. With my only reference in this matter, the museal opera film that Franco Zeffirelli once made of this diptych, my expectations were somewhat reserved but that a theaterical layer could be of such additional benefit to classic verismo-repertoire came as more than just a pleasant surprise.
Dates 5 Sept t/m 28 Sept
Conductor: Lorenzo Viotti
Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest
Choir Dutch National Opera
Chorus master: Ching-Lien Wu
Prologue: Roman Burdenko
Nedda: Ailyn Pérez
Canio: Brandon Jovanovich
Tonio: Roman Burdenko
Santuzza: Anita Rachvelishvili
Lola: Rihab Chaieb
Turiddu: Brian Jagde
Alfio: Roman Burdenko