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Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919)
Pagliacci - opera in a prologue and two acts (1892)
Tonio - Gregory Yurisich
Canio - Plácido Domingo
Beppe - David Cangelosi
Nedda - Verónica Villaroel
Silvio - Manuel Lanza
Washington National Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Leonard Slatkin
Franco Zeffirelli: director and scenery designer
rec. live, John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Opera House, November 1997
Region Code: 0; Aspect Ratio 4:3; PCM Stereo; Dolby 5.0 Surround
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 666007 [78:00]

This Washington Pagliacci has turned up in a few incarnations on DVD, most recently as part of a verismo trilogy in Warner’s (rather short-lived) Plácido Domingo: My Greatest Roles series.
The main draw, as you can guess from the packaging, is Domingo himself. He’s on great form here. He is the right age for playing Canio so he looks the part very well, but the voice still has an astonishingly youthful sheen to it that rings in a thrilling manner. The great test of Vesti la giubba is passed with flying colours, and he is on even finer form in the final confrontation with Nedda in Act 2, imbuing the character with a tragic depth that few interpreters manage. Opposite him is Verónica Villaroel, who takes a little bit of getting used to but is every bit as exciting. She comes across as ever-so-slightly hooty in her first solo, but she sings Stridono lassu with thrilling lightness. The slight edge of steel to her voice helps to make the final scene as electric as it is, but she manages to tone it down for a very effective love duet. The other men are a bit ordinary, though. Manuel Lanza struts around the stage and sings in a similarly swaggery manner, and there isn’t much to the lightweight tenor of David Cangelosi. Gregory Yurisich’s Tonio has a malevolent side to him, but his voice is gravelly and is in danger of being overwhelmed by the orchestra in the Prologue. The orchestral playing is fine, as is Slatkin’s direction, though to my ears he rushes through the final scene and kills some of the dramatic tension.
Zeffirelli’s production is as OTT as you might expect from him. He sets the opera in a slightly tawdry 1950s world, which suits the distinctly budget quality of the travelling players. However, he balances this with some very extravagant entertainments, such as acrobats, dancers and fire-eaters, not to mention a car and a donkey who seem to be thrown in just for the sheer heck of it! Consequently, the production feels unnecessarily busy, something mirrored in the choppy camera work of the normally very dependable Brian Large.
On the one hand it’s undoubtedly good to have this staging available on a single DVD because it ticks a lot of boxes, but if you want Domingo and Zeffirelli then you’d really be a lot better checking out their 1982 film with Georges Prêtre, which shares some visual similarities with this production. It’s better sung and acted all round, and it also contains a good Cavalleria Rusticana for around the same price as this Washington release. You need to put up with some rather dodgy lip-syncing, but if you can get over that then you’ll feel you’ve got your money’s worth.
Simon Thompson