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Leoncavallo: Pagliacci; Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana / Santi, Tucker, Corelli, Metropolitan Opera

Santi,Nello
Release Date: 01/17/2012 
Label:  Sony   Catalog #: 190999  
Composer:  Pietro MascagniRuggero Leoncavallo
Performer:  Eileen FarrellRichard TuckerCesare BardelliLucine Amara,   ... 
Conductor:  Nello Santi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera ChorusMetropolitan Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



MASCAGNI Cavalleria Rusticana 1. LEONCAVALLO Pagliacci 2 Nello Santi, cond; 1 Richard Tucker ( Turiddu ); Eileen Farrell ( Santuzza ); Cesare Bardelli ( Alfio ); Mildred Miller ( Lola ); Lili Read more Chookasian ( Mama Lucia ). 2 Franco Corelli ( Canio ); Lucine Amara ( Nedda ); Anselmo Colzani ( Tonio ); Calvin Marsh ( Silvio ); Franco Ghitti ( Beppe ); Metropolitan Op O & Ch SONY 88691 (2 CDs: 146: 00)


It may be possible to write about Pietro Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo, and their contemporary Umberto Giordano without alluding to their status as “one-work composers,” but I find their cases fascinating. It isn’t that there are not occasional revivals of L’amico Fritz, Iris, Zaza , and Fedora , but they are surely driven in part by the immense and continuing popularity of Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci , and Andrea Chénier . It may not be literally true that Mascagni woke up on May 18, 1890, the day after Cavalleria Rusticana’ s premiere, to find himself world-famous, but it didn’t take long for that to happen. The opera’s combination of beautiful tunes and explosive emotions hit audiences at gut level and, given a good cast, it hasn’t lost its kick. Verdi, curious about the new phenomenon, asked a friend to play some of the score for him but reputedly stopped him partway through the opera and said, “That’s enough. I understand.” The opera world surely had high expectations since Cavalleria Rusticana had been Mascagni’s first opera, expectations that were never fulfilled by his subsequent 14 operas. He wasn’t the only composer to base an opera on Giovanni Verga’s popular short story/play. Among them were Stanislao Gastaldon ( Mala Pasqua —he’s better known as the composer of the song Musica Proibita , the music of which is taken from the opera), Oreste Bimboni ( Santuzza ), and Domenico Monleone, whose Cavalleria Rusticana was first performed in 1907. In some theaters, it was actually performed with Mascagni’s opera as a cheap double-bill (one could use the same scenery for both operas!).


It wasn’t long before excerpts appeared on records, in this case, 14 one-sided shellac discs—1907 to be exact. Two years later came a more-or-less complete one (I’ve never heard it) in German. Starting in the mid 1920s came several electrical ones, followed by a deluge of LPs and CDs of which this is the latest to be released. I discovered Cavalleria Rusticana a long time ago on a 1953 Columbia recording that featured Richard Tucker as Turiddu. On the CD at hand, his voice retains its virile ring in 1964 but his singing is more explosive and he often spits out consonants with unnecessary vehemence. Still, you can get away with a lot of that in this opera and the audience obviously loves it. His Santuzza, Eileen Farrell, the possessor of one of the great voices of her time, had a short career at the Met, probably because she didn’t get along well with her boss, Rudolf Bing. I heard her there in this role and others and will testify that she had the loudest singing voice I have ever heard, a voice that Erich Leinsdorf, who conducted her in Alceste , half-jokingly compared with a volcano. Whether singing over the chorus or blasting away in a duet with Tucker, I swear you could hear her voice bouncing off the Met’s walls. When she recorded Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda with Beverly Sills, she had to stand a few feet further away from the microphone because of the difference in the size of their voices. If she had a weakness in the role perhaps it was that she sometimes seemed too passive or restrained, a sort of anti-Tucker. She wasn’t going to “tear a passion to tatters.” It’s more of a problem on the recording than it was in the house because broadcasts and recordings tend to cut big voices down to size—there’s no gain-riding in the theater, so we hear the restraint and much tasteful singing but lose the dynamic power of the voice when she decides to cut loose. This is also a factor on the accompanying Pagliacci, but more on that later. Cesare Bardelli is a rough-and-ready Alfio; Lili Chookasian, a healthier-sounding Momma Lucia than the norm; but Mildred Miller, whom I did not see as Lola, does not project the character’s smug malice—she just sings very well. There are times when I wish that Nello Santi would move things along a bit faster but he’s apparently sensitive to the singers and the performance doesn’t lack warmth; interestingly, he sets a livelier pace in Pagliacci.


Here, once again, a little gain-riding can sabotage a broadcast. In this case, the victim is the Canio, Franco Corelli. Gain-riding tends to cut big voices down to size. Singers like Farrell and Corelli as well as, say, Mario del Monaco, Giangiacomo Guelfi, Cornell MacNeil, James McCracken, Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek, Astrid Varnay, Jon Vickers, and Leonard Warren, to name some obvious ones that I heard live, were diminished by it. To be sure, they had more than sheer volume going for them, but the ability to turn up the juice was a component of their success. Here we get Corelli’s ringing tones and sense his intensity but we don’t quite get the power he could generate. Though he was sometimes guilty of lackadaisical acting (apparently counting the house instead of addressing his fellow singers) and lethargic singing (loafing his way through ensembles), and scooping his way to high notes (and holding them as long as he could), he really seems to relish his part in Pagliacci , throwing himself into the role with apparent enthusiasm; this is one instance where he seems to be giving 100 percent. To be sure, sometimes he’s unable to resist a near-shout when a clean on-pitch attack would be just as effective, but he leaves little doubt about his vocal qualifications and flair for the role. It occurs to me that this set might have been more effective if Tucker and Corelli had switched roles, but Tucker resisted singing Canio for another six years. With the arrival of a new production in 1970, he and Corelli, in fact, did switch roles for a few performances.


Anselmo Colzani gets the prolog off to a respectable start even if he seems a bit short of breath. His arrival at the Met in 1960 (in effect, he was Leonard Warren’s replacement) was the house’s good fortune and his, for he sang mostly leading roles until 1975, then returned for two more evenings in 1978 for a total of 272 appearances. Many less impressive baritones have had better recording careers and, at the Met, he was overshadowed by MacNeil and Sherrill Milnes. Oddly, I can locate him on only three official recordings, a 1952 La Gioconda and La forza del destino that were issued by Urania, and a DVD from Japan of La fanciulla del West . At least his solid, suitably malicious Tonio is now preserved. His future reputation will probably depend upon his Met broadcasts. Lucine Amara recorded Nedda twice—in 1951 with Tucker as her Canio, and in 1960 with Corelli. This reissued broadcast gives her three. I haven’t heard the earlier ones in years but it’s obvious that she knows the role’s routine and can still sing it effectively in 1964. I do have a sneaking suspicion that she and Corelli did their best performances in 1960 simply because Lovro von Mata?i? was in charge.


Calvin Marsh’s Silvio is vocalized with such smoothness and rich tone that one wonders what he might have done with Tonio. This is one of the only 18 performances Franco Ghitti sang at the Met. He actually sang three Don Ottavios on tour but was probably substituting for an indisposed colleague. I’ve heard Beppe’s serenade sung more insinuatingly by others, but he gets through it respectably, at least. For some reason, Nello Santi conducts this opera at a livelier pace than he uses in Cavalleria Rusticana . Like its inevitable but not invariable mate, Pagliacci was first recorded back in 1907, in this case in what was more-or-less complete form. With so many Pagliacci s out there, I won’t even try to rank them. Among the modern (i.e., stereo) recordings of this pair of favorites, I’m quite satisfied with Decca’s set, which features Mario del Monaco in both star tenor roles, with Giulietta Simionato and Gabriella Tucci as his leading ladies, with Cornell MacNeil as Tonio and also luxuriously cast as Alfio.


FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

1.
Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni
Performer:  Eileen Farrell (Soprano), Richard Tucker (Tenor), Cesare Bardelli (Baritone)
Conductor:  Nello Santi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera Chorus,  Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1890; Italy 
2.
I Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo
Performer:  Lucine Amara (Soprano), Franco Corelli (Tenor), Anselmo Colzani (Baritone)
Conductor:  Nello Santi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Metropolitan Opera Chorus,  Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892; Italy 

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