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Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Parisina

Sung in Italian
Libretto by Gabriele D’Annunzio
Three-act revised version (1913)
Parisina Denia Mazzola (soprano)
Ugo d’Este Vitali Taraschenko (tenor)
Stella dell’Assassino Tea Demurishvili (mezzo soprano)
Nicoló D’Este Vladimir Vaneev (baritone)
La Verde, La Fante Laura Brioli (mezzo soprano)
Aldobrando dei Rangioni Valery Ivanov (bass)
Chorus of Radio lettone
National Orchestra of Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon
Enrique Diemecke (conductor)
Recorded live at Opéra Berlioz-Le Corum on 22 July 1999
NAÏVE AT 34103 [3 CDs 156’ 18"]

Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945) is best known for Cavalleria rusticana and his verismo approach to opera. His greatest triumph was this first opera, actually a competition entry, which scored a palpable hit in 1890. Unfortunately he never really quite lived up to it thereafter, despite the fifteen operas which followed it to 1934, although many of them seemed popular with the public at first hearing but then went on to have short shelf lives. That leaves them ripe for revivals, and Parisina had one under Gianandrea Gavazzeni in 1952, and it now receives its first CD recording from two live performances in Montpellier. Parisina, whose plot is not to be confused with Donizetti’s 1833 setting (Romani after Lord Byron), was not favourably received by its newspaper reviewers at the December 1913 premiere, so the composer proceeded to cut great chunks (something in the order of 330 of D’Annunzio’s 1400 lines, including the fourth act) because of its inordinate length. This cut version is what is recorded here.

The story is predictably gloomy and melodramatic. Act one is set in the Villa D’Este on the River Po, where Ugo is found practicing archery when his mother Stella arrives having been repudiated by her husband. She incites him to vengeance and then, when Parisina enters, publicly insults her. When Niccolo D’Este (Ugo’s father) returns from hunting, Parisina complains to him about the affront she has received. Act two transfers to the Lorette sanctuary to where, as his friend Aldobrando announces, Ugo comes having triumphed in battle during a pilgrimage. Parisina leads him to the sanctuary where they both kneel and give thanks to the Virgin Mary. As his wounds stain her tunic they fall in love and embrace passionately. Act three is set in the Belfiore Palace where Parisina is found lying on a carpet reading the story of Tristan and Iseult, which only aggravates her worries about her adulterous love for Ugo. He arrives, they embrace and are in turn discovered by Niccolo, who condemns them to be beheaded by the same axe.

The great disappointment is the undernourished and overtaxed voice of the tenor Vitali Taraschenko singing the role of Ugo, quite the wrong sound lacking any Italianate blade, a weak link in an otherwise strong cast and luscious orchestral sound (and Mascagni was a master of orchestral sound painting), with a fine chorus (except for flat ladies-in-waiting), all of them under the masterful pacing of Enrique Diemecke. I commend the horn sections (both on and offstage) in the hunting chorus scene. As the spurned and vengeful wife Tea Demurishvili infuses her role (which is confined to the first act only) with dramatically lustrous mezzo quality worthy of any Azucena, whilst Denia Mazzola in the title role has just the right spinto sound for the style and Vladimir Vaneev brings authority to the role of the troubled Nicolo d’Este. A disc full of engaging music, good sound quality, all worth having for its rarity - pity about the tenor though.

Christopher Fifield


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