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Jonathan Woolf
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Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1858-1919)
Chatterton (1896) Opera in three acts. Words and music by Ruggiero Leoncavallo
Thomas Chatterton - Francisco Granados (tenor)
Thomas Chatterton - Francesco Signorini (tenor)
John Clark, a wealthy proprietor - Francesco Frederici (baritone)
Jenny Clark, his wife, a Puritan - Ines de Frate (soprano)
Young Henry, her brother - Annita Santoro (soprano)
Giorgio, an elderly Quaker, Jenny’s uncle - Giuseppe Quinzi-Tapergi (bass)
Lord Klifford - Francesco Cigada (baritone)
Skirner, a moneylender - Gaetano Pini-Corsi (tenor)
Chorus and orchestra of Teatro alla Scala/Ruggiero Leoncavallo
rec. Milan, May 1908      
Pagliacci (1892) Opera in two acts. Words and music by Ruggiero Leoncavallo
Canio (Pagliaccio) - Antonio Paoli (tenor)
Nedda (Colombina) - Giuseppina Huguet (soprano)
Tonio (Taddeo) - Francesco Cigada (baritone)
Silvio (Villager) - Ernesto Badini (baritone)
Beppe (Arlecchino) - Gaetano Pini-Corsi (tenor)
A peasant - Giuseppe Rosci
Chorus and orchestra of Teatro alla Scala/Ruggiero Leoncavallo (as stated on labels; possibly Carlo Sabajno)
rec. Milan, June 1907
MARSTON 52016-2 [79.04 + 78:14]


Experience Classicsonline

I well remember the day that the late Richard Bebb, somewhat cautiously, invited me to look at a 78 album containing a large number of sides of a super-rarity, Leoncavallo’s Chatterton. I’d thought that he had the entire set but it transpires that he and Sir Paul Getty had the entire thing between them. As I leafed through the album pages I felt as if I was in the presence of a surviving missal, or an Abyssinian parchment.

It’s impossible to overstate how rare these twenty-eight 1908 sides actually are. No one collector or archive holds all of them. The opera was conducted by the composer and the process by which he came to direct the opera for the recording  – fees, negotiations – are splendidly set forth in Marston’s typically extensive, splendidly illustrated booklet.

One of the most bizarre features of the recording was the doubling of the role of Chatterton. Tenors Francisco Granados and Francesco Signorini alternate the role; as to why, no one seems quite sure, though speculation is advanced. Signorini was an excellent singer and a thoughtful musician but Granados was a blusterer as one can hear as early as Charley! Holger! which launches the opera. Signorini was a decade older than his colleague but shows in his exchanges with Quinzi-Tapergi’s Giorgio how superior he is in every way imaginable. Annita Santoro is little known – there’s a paucity of biographical information about her though we know that she was born in 1885. Rather laconically the notes about her opine that “it is to be hoped that, in order to appear to be a young boy (she is Young Henry, a “pants” role) she intentionally adopted the sound she makes on this recording.” This piece of drollery relates to the very tight fluttering vibrato she adopts – most audibly in her Act II exchange with Chatterton Là…là…presso a quel tavolo. It is indeed a bizarre sound.

The other cast members are certainly of acceptable to middling standard; the orchestra doesn’t sound too well prepared and doubtless it wasn’t even with the composer at the helm. I realise that I’ve not gone into details regarding the opera as such – its effectiveness or otherwise or the historical circumstances that gave rise to Leonvacallo’s taking Chatterton’s life as the theme of his opera. That however is, I think, of lesser importance. This exceptionally rare set can give only a limited theatrical impression of the work in toto – and though there are some fine scenes it’s not a convincing theatrical work.           

Coupled with it is the 1907 recording of Pagliacci, again said to have been conducted by Leoncavallo but here as likely to have been directed by Carlo Sabajno - or Sabaino as the booklet prefers. Francesco Cigado is a confident, virile Tonio, full voiced and fine. Canio is Antonio Paoli, who doesn’t possess a beautiful voice as such but who phrases with real artistry and eloquence. Nedda is Giuseppina Huguet whose voice is quite light; she’s a little withdrawn when it comes to characterisation. Ernesto Badini cuts a dash as Silvio, a singer with a real gift for “putting it across.” And then there’s Gaetano Pini-Corsi as Beppe. He came to the recording after a full decade and a half singing at La Scala and proves an invaluable addition to the cast; still only in his mid forties he sings with fluency and imagination. Once again the orchestra is uneven.

Seriously high praise is due to this two-disc set. There is a libretto in Italian with English translation for Chatterton; not for Pagliacci, which is a less pressing matter. The transfers have brought out a wealth of detail whilst remaining true to the original source material. The voices are immediate and forward. The booklet is up to the customarily high standard set by this company. You could spend a lifetime looking for even a few of the sides of Chatterton and you still wouldn’t find them. This then is really what restoration is all about – an amazing rarity transferred with care, presented with authority, and made universally available.

Jonathan Woolf   


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