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Leoncavallo: La Nuit de Mai, Songs / Domingo

Release Date: 02/23/2010 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001396502   
Composer:  Ruggero Leoncavallo
Performer:  Placido DomingoLang Lang
Conductor:  Alberto Veronesi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bologna Teatro Comunale Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This album presents Leoncavallo’s La Nuit de Mai, a symphonic poem for orchestra and tenor by a composer largely associated with opera. Leoncavallo is best known for his opera, Pagliacci, and he brings a similar verismo style of composition to this little-known work from 1886. Plácido Domingo brings this wonderful rarity to life with conductor Alberto Veronesi and the orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna. the two artists are no strangers to rare Italian operatic works—they first collaborated on a Deutsche Grammophon recording of Puccini’s Edgar.

The remainder of the album is filled with a selection of songs, also by Leoncavallo. Domingo is joined by piano superstar Lang Lang in these selections, the pianist’s first
Read more recorded collaboration with a singer.


LEONCAVALLO La Nuit de mai Plácido Domingo (ten); Alberto Veronesi (cond); O del Teatro Comunale, Bologna DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON B0013965-02 (60:22 Text and Translation)

& Songs and Piano Pieces (with Lang Lang, pn)

The big news here is La Nuit de mai , a 40-minute symphonic poem for tenor and orchestra by Ruggiero Leoncavallo. I am aware of the existence of one other recording, by tenor Gustavo Porta on the Dynamic label, but have not heard it. Nor do I feel that I need to—this performance is quite remarkable. Domingo admits to being born in 1941, which would make him 66 when this recording was made. The voice is still evenly produced, with its warm burnished tone and solid production values still preserved. Every once in a while, there is a touch of quaver—something you might expect in a singer 15 years younger. But the basic glowing sound remains as it always has been. As if that weren’t enough, Domingo continues to learn new repertoire, and to sing with a deep sense of commitment. There is no sense of sight-reading in this performance.

La Nuit de mai (A Night in May) is a highly unusual piece of music. Based on a poem by Alfred de Musset, Leoncavallo called the work a “grand poème symphonique,” completing it in 1886. The concept of this score is quite unlike anything I have ever encountered. Musset’s poem is a dialogue between a poet and his muse. It begins, for example, with the muse saying, “Poet, take up your lute and bestow on me a kiss. The wild rose’s flower can feel its buds open. Spring is born this evening.” The poet responds: “How dark it is in the valley! I thought that a veiled shape was floating down there on the forest. She was leaving the meadow. … She fades away and vanishes.” Leoncavallo gives all of the poet’s words to the tenor; the muse’s words are represented by the orchestra—they are never sung at all. DG correctly provides the full poem (Leoncavallo set it all), so that we can follow the muse’s orchestrally realized text as well as the poet’s sung words. The score is richly and imaginatively orchestrated and filled with inspired melody. I find it extraordinary that other major tenors have not taken it up.

I have often said in these pages that I don’t really understand the meaning of the word “masterpiece,” and thus have no view as to whether this is one. But it is an important, deeply satisfying piece of music to anyone who loves the Romantic symphonic poem, and to those who like verismo operas as well. This is not verismo in the blood-and-thunder style of Pagliacci or Cavalleria rusticana , but more in the intimate style of Zandonai, Alfano, the Mascagni of L’amico Fritz , or Catalani. The inspiration level is very high.

As a bonus, DG gives us five songs by Leoncavallo, beautifully sung by Domingo and very sensitively accompanied by Lang Lang. The pianist is often (unfairly in my view) accused of musical exhibitionism, but here he is no more and no less than a sensitive collaborator and musical partner for Domingo. He also gets two piano pieces to himself—a barcarolle and a waltz—and they make a lovely conclusion to a recording that will get many re-hearings in my home. Alberto Veronesi and his Bologna orchestra clearly understand the idiom and seem genuinely inspired by the occasion. DG provides very informative notes. The recorded sound is excellent; neither the tenor nor the orchestra dominates, and the sound balances clarity with warmth perfectly. I find Lang Lang’s piano sound a bit harder than I know it to be in person, but that is a very minor problem. This is a delightful and important recording.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel

I found the two piano works thoroughly charming, particularly the way Lang plays them. He is truly in his element here: playful and elegant, finding just the right mode of expression without trying too hard to make more of them than they are. His use of rubato and rallentando is simply delicious. One can almost smell the waft of summer evening air as he plays. Bravo, Lang Lang!

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley Read less

Works on This Recording

Nuit de Mai by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Performer:  Placido Domingo (Tenor)
Conductor:  Alberto Veronesi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bologna Teatro Comunale Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1895; Italy 
Aprile by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Performer:  Placido Domingo (Tenor), Lang Lang (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
C'è nel tuo sguardo by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Performer:  Placido Domingo (Tenor), Lang Lang (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Hymne à la Lyre by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Performer:  Placido Domingo (Tenor), Lang Lang (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
La chanson des yeux by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Performer:  Placido Domingo (Tenor), Lang Lang (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: Italy 
L' Addio by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Performer:  Placido Domingo (Tenor), Lang Lang (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Barcarola veneziana by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Performer:  Lang Lang (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: Italy 
Valse mignonne by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Performer:  Lang Lang (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: Italy 

Sound Samples

La Nuit de mai: 1. Sostenuto assai
La Nuit de mai: 2. Largamente
La Nuit de mai: 3. Vivo - Mouv. de Valse
La Nuit de mai: 4. Assai agitato
La Nuit de mai: 5. Sostenuto
La Nuit de mai: 6. Largo tranquillo
La Nuit de mai: 7. Allegro con fuoco
La Nuit de mai: 8. Assai Sostenuto - Quasi Adagio
La Nuit de mai: 9. Andante Sostenuto Assai
La Nuit de mai: 10. Andante agitato assai
La Nuit de mai: 11. Largamente quasi recitativo
La Nuit de mai: 12. Andante Mosso e Solenne
C'è nel tuo sguardo (1893)
Hymne à la Lyre
La Chanson des Yeux
Barcarola Veneziana
Valse mignonne

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