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Pietro MASCAGNI (1863–1945)
Cavalleria rusticana (1890)
Paoletta Marrocu (soprano) – Santuzza; Andrea Bocelli (tenor) – Turiddu; Elena Belfiore (contralto) – Lucia; Stefano Antonucci (baritone) – Alfio; Enkelejda Shkosa (mezzo) – Lola; Salvatrice Rafisardo (soprano) – Una donna
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Massimo Bellini di Catania/Steven Mercurio
rec. Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania, 24 June–4 July 2002. DDD
DECCA 475 7853 [77:55]

Considering the great popularity of Andrea Bocelli I don’t understand why Decca have kept this recording in their vaults for almost five years. Bocelli’s name appears on the cover in big capital letters so he must be the selling-point. The reason might perhaps be that, Bocelli greatly appeals to ‘ordinary people’ as opposed to opera lovers. Thus the company don’t want to over-flood the market for listeners who maybe reluctantly buy operas. On the other hand the other verismo war-horse, Pagliacci (see review) appeared at the same time.
Recording Cavalleria rusticana in Catania seems logical, since the action of the opera takes place in Sicily. I have no complaints whatsoever concerning the quality of the playing and singing of Teatro Massimo Bellini’s Orchestra and Chorus. On the contrary it is good to hear the important choruses, especially Regina Coeli (tr. 8), sung with such conviction and fresh tones, and certainly there is real bite in the Brindisi. The orchestra also play well but in the orchestral numbers Steven Mercurio has a tendency to drag. The prelude is very slow, half a minute longer than Karajan’s, who is slower than most others. The glow he draws from the La Scala players is not matched by Mercurio. Likewise the Intermezzo (tr. 18) is plodding and almost as slow as the egocentric Sinopoli, who nevertheless blows life into this hackneyed piece through a myriad nuances. Elsewhere Mercurio adopts sensible tempos and the drama unfolds without quirks – unless the unnecessarily long pauses between numbers are down to the conductor. 
The singers are mainly new to me – apart from the Albanian mezzo-soprano Enkelejda Shkosa, who has made herself a name during the last decade or so. Here she appears in the cameo role of Lola and makes a vivid character with fruity, vibrant tones. Elena Belfiore as Mamma Lucia rightly sounds elderly. As Alfio, Stefano Antonucci is vital and appealing with a well-placed voice, characterised by a fast vibrato. It is not a particularly big voice however and it could be argued that this Alfio is too well-behaved; better that than too much roaring. Paoletta Marrocu as Santuzza is the real find: bright-toned and expressive. She sings Voi lo sapete (tr. 10) with great feeling and in the duets with Turiddu and Alfio she is deeply inside her role. Just listen to No, no Turiddu (tr. 15), which is possibly the high-spot in this recording, and also Turiddu, mi tolse (tr, 17). This is great operatic acting by an impressive dramatic soprano.
And what about Andrea Bocelli? So much has been written about his pros and cons as an opera singer but I am afraid that I didn’t warm very much to his reading. Not having heard him live I have no idea of how small or large his voice is. I got a feeling that in the Santuzza–Turiddu duet he was placed much closer to the microphones with the effect that they didn’t communicate. His reading is generally unsubtle and even though it can be argued that in this crude opera and especially this rough-hewn character, there isn’t much room for subtlety, one need only listen to Jussi Björling and Carlo Bergonzi to hear what a sensitive singer can do with the role. Bocelli sings most of the role at forte and above with a surprisingly baritonal tone; he does have heft – I won’t deny that. But not until the very end – the duet with Alfio (tr. 22) and his aria Mamma, quell vino è generoso (tr. 23) – is there any sign of feeling and some attempt at scaling down the voice. Many of Bocelli’s admirers may well be satisfied with this generalized reading. I am not going to get on my high horse and condemn this recording but I would urge readers to lend an ear to Björling (now on Naxos - see review) and Bergonzi (DG) to hear the difference.
Buying this latest Cavalleria one gets an essay about the work, a synopsis and full texts and translations in four languages. Decca’s recording teams rarely let their projects down.
To me it was a pleasure to hear a fine baritone and a great dramatic soprano. For their contributions I will certainly return to this set.
Göran Forsling


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