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Decca Phase 4
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857–1919)
I Pagliacci (1892)
(tenor) – Canio; Ana María Martínez (soprano) – Nedda;
Stefano Antonucci (baritone) – Tonio; Francesco Piccoli
(tenor) – Beppe; Roberto Accurso (baritone) – Silvio; Salvatore
Bonaffini (tenor) – Un contadino; Salvatore Todaro (baritone) – Un
Coro di voci bianche ”Gaudeamus igitur” Concentus
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania/Steven
rec. Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania, 24 June–4 July 2002.
DECCA 475 7753 [78:32]
This Pagliacci was recorded during the same period in
2002 as its twin brother Cavalleria rusticana (see review).
the same conductor and the same leading baritone alongside Andrea
Bocelli, who is the raison d’être for both projects.
I had some objections to Mercurio’s dragging tempos in some
places in Cavalleria. Also here he chops up the music
in the pure orchestral sections, as in the introduction and
the fine Intermezzo, whose main theme is a reminiscence from
Tonio’s prologue. Otherwise he keeps things going in a straightforward
manner. As in Cavalleria the choral singing is good.
I can’t say that it is a very theatrical production – it
rather feels studio-bound, even though it was recorded in
I found Stefano Antonucci an appealing but possibly too lyrical Alfio
in Cavalleria and thought that Tonio might be even
less well suited to his voice but actually he rises well
to the occasion. Lyrical he certainly is but the Tonio role
isn’t really about force, it is just as much a character
part, and Antonucci is very expressive and colours his voice
admirably in the prologue. He sings Un nido di memorie pianissimo
to very fine effect and all through the performance acts
more with nuance and inflexion rather than with volume, even
though he forces too much in a couple of instances. Generally
though this is a memorable reading. Ana María Martinez is
a bit uneven. In Nedda’s aria her tone is uncharacteristically
fluttery, maybe recorded on an off-day, while the dramatic
scene with Tonio finds her in ringing form and in the “play
within the play” in the second act, she is excellent.
Francesco Piccoli is an honest but not very individual Beppe
and his serenade could have been more ingratiating. Having
Tito Schipa’s recording for so long I am spoilt and no one
is ever likely to challenge him for elegance and charm. I
am afraid that Roberto Accurso is a fairly mediocre Silvio.
He is involved but uneven and sings too often off pitch.
Even Ms Martinez is a little unsteady in their duet, which
is one of the best parts of the opera. The end of the duet
goes better, however.
I have left Andrea Bocelli to last and the situation is roughly the
same as in Cavalleria: much full-throated singing
with baritonal timbre but all too often he presses the voice
beyond its natural limits. This results in strained and even
strangulated tone. Un tal gioco in the first act is
quite well sung – or rather his intentions are good, but Vesti
la giubba is muddled and it doesn’t help that the conductor
slows it down so much; the postlude almost comes to a stand-still.
Bocelli grows in stature, however, in the last act, and No,
Pagliaccio non son and the following Speravi, tanto
il delirio (tracks 24 and 25) are delivered really heroically
with a great deal of feeling. Here he is thrilling – but
the tone is strained.
No, the best reason for acquiring this set is Stefano Antonucci and
there is perhaps some symbolism in the fact that in this
performance it is Tonio, not Canio, who utters the last line: La
commedia è finita! Full texts and translations are included
and the sound is excellent.
A recommendation? Bocelli fans will want this, irrespective
of what I write. I have to admit to admiring his boldness
However for the best recording one has to look elsewhere.
Karajan on DG with Bergonzi and a slightly over-aged but
wonderfully expressive Giuseppe Taddei as Tonio is probably
the safest bet. Bergonzi recorded the role also at the very
beginning of his career for Cetra with another oldtimer,
Carlo Tagliabue, as Tonio. This was the recording through
which I learnt this opera. It can’t compete, however, with
the Cellini recording from about the same time: Björling,
los Angeles, Merrill and Warren – what a line-up! In both – or
all three – cases we are treated to really sensitive singing
of the title role. For a blood-and-thunder version that is
hard to challenge for raw animal power the old Decca recording
with Mario Del Monaco, Cornell McNeil and Gabriella Tucci
is worth anyone’s money.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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