A consequence of pandemic postponements and corona-cancellations is that leading opera singers’ diaries are more flexible than normal. Usually booked years in advance, suddenly they can pitch up at the drop of a hat. When Stéphane Lissner’s (already revised) plans to open the new season at Teatro San Carlo with Marina Abramović’s vanity project The 7 Deaths of Maria Callas had to be scrapped, a concert performance of Cavalleria rusticana was laid on at short notice. Jonas Kaufmann, no less, was flown in to join Elīna Garanča and Maria Agresta (salvaged from the Callas cast) on the star billing.

Elīna Garanča © Luciano Romano
Elīna Garanča
© Luciano Romano

San Carlo sold tickets for just € 1 – an absolute steal – resulting in some 12,000 punters tuning in to watch the live stream. Although the sound was pristine, stuttering image problems plagued the first 15 minutes (cue lots of Italians making sarcastic jokes about dodgy wifi in the comments section). Kudos to whoever made the decision to pull the plug and reboot the system; within a few minutes the stream was replayed from the start, and I suffered no glitches at all. Those who abandoned the feed have three days to watch “on demand”; Facebook indicates that up to 33k folks were “going”. 

Juraj Valčuha led a finely honed account of Mascagni’s score – the better half of the Cav’n’Pag double bill pairing (don’t write in!) – with sensible tempi, if sometimes over-cautious. Although this wasn’t the earthiest reading, the San Carlo strings played with eloquence (tender in the famous Intermezzo), while there were distinguished woodwind contributions.  “Experienced” would be the polite word for the mature San Carlo chorus however, with scrawny soprano lines in the Easter Hymn and tentative attack in the big moments. Social distancing is unkind in exposing individual weaknesses. 

Jonas Kaufmann and Elīna Garanča © Luciano Romano
Jonas Kaufmann and Elīna Garanča
© Luciano Romano

There was no lack of attack from the stellar quintet of principals. Elīna Garanča’s resplendent chest register has gained fruity ripeness having taken on heavy Verdi and verismo roles these past few years. Her grandiose, glamorous Santuzza ruled the roost, showing tremendous disdain for Turiddu’s excuses. I’d happily luxuriate in Garanča’s Rolls Royce of a mezzo for hours. “Voi lo sapete” was simply majestic.

Cast, chorus and orchestra of Teatro San Carlo © Luciano Romano
Cast, chorus and orchestra of Teatro San Carlo
© Luciano Romano

Jonas Kaufmann is also in great voice at the moment. Following a lovely Rodolfo for Bayerische Staatsoper at the start of the week, his Turiddu was terrific, more inclined to verismo sobs in the vocal line than Garanča. There were plenty of tenor thrills – the duet with Santuzza sizzled – but it was his farewell to Elena Zilio’s Mamma Lucia that tugged the heartstrings. Zilio, 80 next year, still has a big, rasping mezzo and her performance was soaked in sincerity. 

In the “real world”, Maria Agresta wouldn’t take on a tiny role like Lola, but she made her flirtatious mark here. Claudio Sgura’s baritone was on the slim side as Alfio, outgunned by Garanča in their big duet where he swears vengeance, but his carter’s song was jauntily sung.

Claudio Sgura and Jonas Kaufmann © Luciano Romano
Claudio Sgura and Jonas Kaufmann
© Luciano Romano

Although a concert performance, the video director added a few bits of pre-recorded slow-motion “action” during orchestral scene setting – a tousle-haired Kaufmann canoodles with Agresta in one of the boxes, spied by a pensive Garanča; Sgura and Kaufmann square up in the corridor, that sort of thing. Cheesy, perhaps, but who doesn’t love a sprinkling of pecorino pepato on their alla Norma?


This performance was reviewed from the Teatro San Carlo live video stream on Facebook

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