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.