Cav and Pag at the Deutsche Oper Berlin

To add spice to a revival of David Pountney’s 2005 production of Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci, the Deutsche Oper Berlin invited two famous Wagnerians, Waltraud Meier and Stephen Gould, to have a few nights off the more serious stuff and have a go at Italian melodrama. The strategy was very successful. The dramatic intensity which characterises the performances of the redoubtable Meier was highly appropriate for the role of Santuzza and Gould’s large Heldentenor voice reached thrillingly to the outermost points of the theatre in Vesti la giubba. The indisposition of the Russian Turiddu, Maxim Aksenov, led to a last-minute replacement in George Oniani. He displayed a brilliant tenor voice and obviously has a great future. We were less fortunate with the substitution of the Nedda, since Inva Mula was not at her vocal best.

Indeed, Gould apart, the singers in I Pagliacci did not impress, but as compensation we could admire the ingenuity in Pountney’s production. While Cavalleria Rusticana had apparently been staged conventionally, we realised in retrospect that that was but a foil to what was to follow, since Pountney subsequently showed us that though Cav was “pure” theatre, Pagliacci wavered between grim reality and theatrical presentation, leaving it intriguingly ambiguous as to what was really going on. The majority of the audience obviously and rightly enjoyed the evening, but there was some booing for one or two of the singers and particularly the conductor. Quite unjustified and altogether unpleasant.