This recording was initially one of the many casualties of the Second World War. It happened that the Italian Victor company in Milan recorded this Fiftieth Anniversary celebration of the first performance of Cavalleria Rusticana in April 1940 when Mussolini and Hitler were poised to move dramatically against what was left of Europe not under their domination. It was not until 1947 that the English HMV and American Victor companies released it. Featuring the 50-year-old Beniamino Gigli, commonly accepted to be the successor to Caruso, and with the composer conducting, it was certainly intended to be a gala event.
Gigli is of one of the legendary tenors of our time and this is one of his greatest roles. Gigli was still a powerful and dramatic Turiddu and this is certainly an important document in his career. A torrid Santuzza of Lina Bruna Rasa and a lyrical Maria Marcucci, who sings Lola, support him ably on this occasion. Another interesting feature of this recording is that it is the first recorded appearance of the young Giulietta Simionato who went on to take her place as probably the greatest Italian mezzo-soprano of the Twentieth Century. Her Mamma Lucia is a clear indication of future glory. The Alfio here is the rather pallid Gino Becchi.
Mascagni shows that he was a powerful advocate of his own music. His fluid, dramatic reading is filled with moving moments and telling detail. Since this 75-minute work spills over to a second disk, there is room for a good deal more of Mascagni's conducting. This recording has another 51 minutes of him conducting the overtures to Il Barbiere de Siviglia and I Vespri Siciliani plus six orchestra pieces from some of his other operas. It is easy to understand why he had international success as a conductor. He is also heard giving a short introductory speech to this recorded effort.
This recording, newly remastered by Ward Marston, delivers the best possible monaural sound and, as part of the Naxos Historical series, is attractively priced. The total playing time of these two discs is 136 minutes. The booklet has historical notes and a brief description of the opera but no libretto. It is an imposing tribute to this master of the Italian verismo tradition.